Eight games into the season, and Barcelona lead Real Madrid by five points. To add some variety to the mix, Real's local rivals Atletico Madrid are tied on points with the Catalans, and for the first time in a long time, the Spanish league appears to be turning into a three horse race.
In the current scheme of things, a result for either side could already go a long way in deciding the ultimate fate of the championship. It may be early days yet, but as always the El Clasico is truly a six-point fixture.
Moreover, both sides are to play two games before they face off in the Camp Nou, less than a fortnight from now. Madrid have to encounter tenth placed Malaga in the league before hosting Juventus in the Champions League, the first of two fixtures against the Turin club which most likely would decide who tops their group.
Barcelona travel to 18th placed Osasuna before making a trip to Milan in another mouth watering European clash. It is to be noted that both clubs will get no more than three days after these games before they face off against one another, and fatigue could play a major role. Neither European opponents can be taken lightly.
Barcelona and Real Madrid form the biggest rivalry in world football, a clash of true superstars, where the entire world stops for 90 minutes to enjoy the spectacle. With Carlo Ancelotti confident that Gareth Bale will return from injury and feature for Los Blancos against the Catalans, we can expect a truly special game of football indeed. Here's a look at the key individual battles which could decide the result of the tie:
1. Neymar vs Danny Carvajal
Barcelona's €57 million man Neymar is still coming to terms with life in La Liga. Still, there is no denying his quality and, moreover, his appetite for the big occasion.
The Brazilian is generally deployed on the left wing and will be looking to exploit that particular area all night long. Real Madrid will hope to match the youngster with a youth of their own, 21-year-old Danny Carvajal.
The Spaniard has looked impressive so far this season, and considering Alvaro Arbeloa has been doing himself no favours with recent performances, expect Carvajal to get a start at the Nou Camp.
Carvajal has the pace to match Neymar or at least not to be run into the ground by half-time. The Brazilian has the upper hand, and Madrid's chances will depend largely on how good a job Carvajal does of containing him.
2. Lionel Messi vs Pepe and Sergio Ramos
Lionel Messi has an infamous relationship with Madrid's centre back pairing (especially Pepe). In recent years, the trio have played together on the same pitch numerous times, with varying results.
On his day, Messi can make the task of beating two of the world's best central defenders look academic. Ramos and Pepe are extremely capable however, and it wouldn't be the world's biggest surprise if Messi has a quiet outing against Los Blancos.
Madrid have been shipping goals of late however, so frankly speaking, the odds look to be in the Argentine's favour.
3. Gareth Bale vs Dani Alves
The Welshman is expected to make a comeback from injury against Barcelona. Ancelotti has been giving signals that he wants to start his marquee summer signing at the Camp Nou, with Ronaldo shifting into the position behind the front man.
If Bale can put in a performance similar to the one he gave for Tottenham against Maicon a few years ago, Alves could have his hands full. Given that it would be Bale's first game after a while however, he may still be a way from his best, which could majorly work in the favour of the Barcelona wing-back.
4. Angel Di Maria vs Jordi Alba
Madrid's Angel Di Maria has been in red hot form recently. At the Camp Nou, he will come up against Spanish left back Jordi Alba. Aside from being a capable defender, Alba loves to bomb forward, which may just press Di Maria back a little. With all the focus on the Neymar/Messi and Ronaldo/Bale pairings, the result of this individual battle could be a real game changer.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Victor Valdes etc...
Cristiano Ronaldo has developed a real hunger for this fixture over recent seasons. Initially criticised for underperforming at El Clasicos, Ronaldo has been scoring freely against Barcelona, especially in more recent encounters.
Whilst Madrid leave the job of controlling Messi's influence over the game to Pepe and Ramos, Barcelona prefer to crowd out Ronaldo, not giving him an opportunity to threaten their goal. If Bale starts, the Portuguese man will occupy a central berth behind the striker, and all of Barcelona's centrally positioned defensive players will try and disrupt his rhythm from the off.
6. Karim Benzema vs Himself
The 25-year-old French striker has looked far from his best in recent games. Undoubtedly a world class finisher, Benzema has struggled to find the his scoring touch on a regular basis.
Some experts have attributed his dip in form to the sale of Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli. The Argentine posed stiff competition to Benzema for a place in the starting XI, and with him gone, the Frenchman is more or less guaranteed a place on the team sheet.
With youngster Alvaro Morata showing real promise it is only a matter of time before Ancelotti loses both patience and faith in Benzema. A good performance against Barcelona would do wonders to lift his own self-confidence, as well as that of others in him. All that remains to be seen now however, is which Benzema takes to the pitch in less than a fortnight.
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