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El Clasico Preview: Things Could Get Messi

Apologies for the poor play on words in the title. Anyway, this weekend will see Barcelona play host to Real Madrid in what will be the 167th El Clasico in La Liga’s 80+ year history. A global audience which tends to surpass 100,000,000 will watch the most iconic rivalry in footballing history unfold once again at the Camp Nou.

Whilst this match is certainly too early to be deemed a title decider, La Liga’s 167th El Clasico does have some serious implications when it comes to who will lead the league once this battle is done and dusted.

Barcelona are currently sitting at the top of La Liga with a remarkable 25 points out of a possible 27. If Barcelona wins the tie then they would increase the gap over Real Madrid to six points and would remain at the top.

The visitors Real Madrid have an impressive 22 points; however their defeat to city rivals Atletico earlier this season means they sit behind them in 3rd place. A win may not guarantee Real top spot, but it would draw them level on points with Barcelona. Therefore one can assume that this is more of a must-win situation for Real Madrid as falling six points behind would put a lot of pressure on manager Carlo Ancelotti and his galacticos, even at this early stage.

With that being said, a draw would not suit either side if Atletico Madrid secure a victory against Real Betis at home. Assuming Atletico will win (and they should) then Barca will drop to second and a point behind Atletico. Real Madrid will still be third but they will be five points behind their city rival and still three behind Barcelona.

The downside for Real Madrid is that Lionel Messi should start against Real Madrid tonight.  The Argentine international started his first game on Tuesday night since his thigh injury problems began in a Champions League fixture against AC Milan. His goal against the “Rossoneri” was his 12th in all competitions this season and proof that he is in lethal form once again as he is averaging more than one goal a game.

Messi’s return to the Barcelona squad is a welcome sight for the current La Liga champions. Barcelona were forced to cope without their talismanic forward and despite a convincing 4-1 win against Real Valladolid, they failed to perform to anything like their usual standards against Celtic in their 1-0 Champions League victory at Parkhead. A goalless draw against Osasuna, where Messi came on as a substitute, showed how much Messi actually means to the Barcelona squad.

It also speaks volumes on how underwhelming Neymar, Barcelona’s star signing this summer, has been so far. The Brazilian “sensation” has been anything but sensational with only two goals in eight appearances in La Liga. His £48.6m move from Santos this summer has put a lot of pressure on his young shoulders and it has so far shown in his performances. When he is handed greater responsibility, like in the game against Celtic, he hasn’t lived up to the hype. And when Messi is playing, he has been given a supporting role which does not suit Neymar’s flamboyant style. El Clasico will be a true test to see if Neymar can rise to the challenge and adapt his game to suit the needs of Messi. If he fails to do so then we could be looking at a new Ibrahimovic-type situation at Camp Nou.

Speaking of players that need a big game, nobody else needs one more than the Welsh wizard Gareth Bale. If Neymar has the pressure of Barcelona on his hands then imagine how Bale must feel being tagged as the “World’s Most Expensive Footballer”, a fact that has oddly been disputed by the Madrid press, Florentino Perez and undoubedtly Cristiano Ronaldo himself. Regardless of all that, one cannot help but be slightly sympathetic to Gareth Bale who has struggled with injuries following an average start (with a goal) in a 2-2 draw against Villareal. Like Messi, Bale has just returned to the squad as he made his first appearance in over a month against Juventus on Wednesday.

The pressure is on Ancelotti to improve the amount of chances they are creating. Cristiano Ronaldo has been one of the very few players that has impressed in the new look Real Madrid squad, as he has scored eight of the nineteen goals that Real Madrid have scored this season. Spanish youngster Isco is one to look out for however as he’s impressed the Spanish media with his four goals from midfield following his summer move from Malaga. That said nobody has got more than two assists for Real (Di Maria and Benzema both have two) and that is a huge cause for concern especially against the league’s best defence.

Barcelona are more impressive in creating chances with Fabregas topping the assist charts with six to his tally. Contradictory to my argument earlier, Neymar has managed five assists so far this season too, and he could actually turn out to be a good provider for Messi. Fabregas, Neymar and Messi are all in the top ten for La Liga assists this season and ultimately I think this is going to be the difference between the two squads tonight.

If Barcelona keep creating the amount of chances that they know they can then Barcelona should confidently win this fixture. Real Madrid have not impressed in their performances this season and their 2-1 win against 10-men Juventus was reflective of how lucky they have been so far in both domestic and European competitions. I think that this will be a battle of who has the best unit in the middle of the park and that goes to a structured Barcelona midfield. Real Madrid has some fantastic young talent in the midfield such as Isco and Illaramendi and I think that they will learn from this El Clasico rather than win it.  

PREDICTION: BARCELONA 2-1 REAL MADRID. Messi should make a triumphant return after being absent for a couple of games.

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