Real Madrid against Barcelona is never just an ordinary game of football, and the dazzling quality display means this weekend’s meeting at the Bernabeu is surrounded by more anticipation than ever. This will be the first El Clasico of the season where both the clubs are coming into this game with a comfortable win in Champions League. Apparently, this is not just a regular La Liga game: it’s a Ballon d’Or showdown between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, a match which could set the tone for the rest of Luis Enrique’s time as Barcelona manager and, of course, the first glimpse of Luis Suárez in Barça colours

Real Madrid, who defeated English side Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield and Barcelona who managed to get past 3-1 against Ajax looks all set for the first El Clasico of the season. With Spanish Newspaper claiming that this El Clasico will be broadcasted in more than 200 countries with a potential audience of 400 million viewers, one can be assure that this clash has already attracted huge number of fans.

Lionel Messi’s left-footed strike in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Eibar took him to the milestone of 250 career goals in La Liga, leaving the Barcelona man just one behind the record held by Athletic Bilbao legend Telmo Zarra.

The tantalising prospect of Messi breaking the all-time Spanish goalscoring record against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu has not, as you would expect, gone unnoticed in Spain.

Real will have to do without Bale this weekend as the Welshman is recovering from a buttock muscle strain which forced him to miss the midweek Champions League win over Liverpool. They are also sweating on the fitness of key defender Sergio Ramos after he missed the trip to Anfield with a calf problem and if he fails to recover in time Pepe will continue in central defence alongside young Frenchman Raphael Varane. The only other player that Madrid are without is Jesé Rodriguez, who continues to work his way back to full fitness after a serious knee injury. Sami Khedira has finally returned, but should start this game on the bench.

 

Dani Carvajal could replace Alvaro Arbeloa at right back, but at the top end of the pitch it will be left to Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez to dismantle the Barcelona defence.

Barcelona are concerned about the fitness of Busquets, who, like Bale, isn’t 100 percent out but isn’t expected to start. Thomas Vermaelen, Douglas and Adriano are struggling to get healthy as well, so Barcelona are extremely thin at the back, even if they can field a starting XI that looks just fine.

Javier Mascherano is likely to keep his position in midfield where he has been so impressive this season though, with Sergio Busquets available again, Enrique may be tempted to push the Argentine back into his defence in order to accommodate the Spaniard in midfield. 

If Enrique goes for Xavi then it would force the Asturian manager to choose between Ivan Rakitic and Iniesta for the remaining interior spot. A tough call, undoubtedly. Despite the Croatian international’s splendid start to the season, having a player of Iniesta’s calibre and experience is definitely the way forward. If Enrique’s plan is to have control of the game’s tempo, choosing the Albacete-born star makes perfect sense.

Though Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has no fresh injury worries to contend with ahead of the game with his biggest dilemma whether or not to start Suarez from the first whistle. But because we’ve already had the pleasure of watching quite a bit of James Rodriguez in a white shirt, the spotlight in this edition of El Clásico is on one man in blaugrana: Luis Suarez. If Suarez starts Pedro is likely to drop to the bench who has not been in top form recently.

Enrique’s one concern may be upsetting the partnership that has developed between Lionel Messi and Neymar and it remains to be seen how the presence of the Uruguayan will affect that.

Entering this match, Cristiano Ronaldo is probably the most in-form player in the world, with an absurd 20 goals from 13 matches to this point. No one on Barcelona can match that tally, but Lionel Messi and Neymar are striking up an excellent partnership. Messi has nine goals, Neymar has 10, and they’re assisting each other regularly.

Stats of the game:

  • Lionel Messi can become the all-time leading goalscorer in La Liga on Saturday. The Argentine is just one goal behind Telmo Zarra’s record of 251 goals. He has reached his mark of 250 goals in 285 games
  • Messi will also be hoping to add to his record of 21 goals in 28 Clasicos.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo has 15 goals in seven La Liga matches this season – With 15 strikes to his name, Ronaldo has registered more goals in the opening eight rounds of the season than any other player in La Liga history, a feat all the more remarkable for the fact that he missed one of those games – a 4-2 defeat against Real Sociedad.
  • Claudio Bravo – The Chile international has not conceded a single goal in 720 minutes of La Liga action, setting a new Spanish football record for consecutive clean sheets at the start of a season. With another clean sheet at the Bernabeu on Saturday, Bravo would move into third place in the all-time La Liga list for minutes played without conceding, although he would still have a long way to go to overtake the record of 1,275 minutes achieved by Atletico keeper Abel Resino in 1990-91.
  •  £639m – With mega-money signings such as Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Neymar and a certain Suarez on show, the latest edition of El Clasico will be the most expensive game of football ever played – and that is even without injured £85m man Gareth Bale.
  • In the team’s last three meetings there have been ten different scorers.
  • You have to go back to 2002 to find the last time Real and Barcelona shared a goalless draw.
  • Messi has played in twenty-eight El Clasico’s, scoring twenty-one goals.
  • It is estimated that there will be a worldwide television audience of around 400 million.
  • Ronaldo has already scored three hat-tricks this season.
  • Barcelona fans have only been allocated 500 tickets for their away fixture. The Bernabeu holds 81,044.
  • Real Madrid have won 91 of the 227 Clasicos to-date. Barca have won 88 times while there have been 48 draws. (source BBCSport)

Probable lineups:

Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco, James Rodriguez; Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema

Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Daniel Alves, Pique, Jeremy Mathieu, Jordi Alba; Mascherano, Rakitic, Andres Iniesta; Neymar, Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodriguez

Predictions:

Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona