Barcelona vs Real Madrid Preview: Los Blancos travel to Camp Nou bidding to preserve unbeaten record

2 December 2016 | 11:30 pm

Barcelona vs Real Madrid Preview: Los Blancos travel to Camp Nou bidding to preserve unbeaten record

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Pique and Carvajal battle for possession last season (photo: Getty Images / Elisa Estrada)

Barcelona and Real Madrid meet in the first Clasico of the season on Saturday, with Luis Enrique’s side desperately in need of a win to close the gap on their rivals.

Zinedine Zidane goes into the fixture having led Real to a six point lead at the top of La Liga after 13 games, Barcelona trailing behind on the same number of points as Sevilla. The Europa League holders will be watching on hoping for some dropped points by the visitors, as they continue their bid to win a first La Liga title since the 1940’s.

Barca struggling for consistency as Real romp away

Barcelona’s form of late hasn’t been terrible, but in a league where so few teams are competitive at the top, it’s easy to fall away after a couple of disappointing performances.

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Despite beating Sevilla, Valencia and Celtic away from home in recent weeks, Lionel Messi and co have struggled on occasion, such as the 0-0 draw at home to Malaga. Most recently in the league, they dropped two points at Real Sociedad, following that up by tieing 1-1 with Hercules in the cup on Wednesday.

Real’s form, on the other hand, has been magnificent. They’ve won more, lost less (none, infact), scored more and conceded less than Barcelona. But can they now beat them?

Well, they’ve pretty much beat everyone else in their path over recent weeks. Zidane’s men have won five in a row, the most notable victory being the 3-0 crushing of city rivals Atletico Madrid a few weeks ago, and that’s the sort of peformance they’ll be hoping to repeat on Sunday.

Team news

Andres Iniesta’s return to the Barcelona squad will be a welcome one, with the team’s downturn in form coinciding with Iniesta’s two months out through a knee injury. 

Whilst Enrique may not risk him from the start, the temptation will certainly be there at least to bring Iniesta on with some time remaining, possibly to unlock a Madrid defence that have only conceded 11 goals in 13 games so far. 

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are all likely to start, and will hope to strike a chord that they’ve struggled to find in recent weeks. One likely absentee is Jordi Alba, set to be sidelined with a foot problem.

Gareth Bale is Madrid’s major loss after ankle surgery ruled the talented Welshman out until April, whilst Toni Kroos and Alvaro Morata are both also sidelined. 

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Zidane’s major selection headache comes over Sergio Ramos‘ partner in defence, with Raphael Varane looking to battle Pepe for a spot after recovering from a knock.

Where will the game be won and lost?

In a game filled with attacking riches placed on show by each side, it’s about which brightspark of European football will shine the brightest.

Cristiano Ronaldo, even more so in Bale’s absence, will carry the torch for Real Madrid, whilst Neymar is hoping to end a goalscoring run stretching seven games long. 

Barcelona’s midfield will look to dictate the game and shut down any early momentum that Madrid will look to gain, however Zidane could look to replace Bale with an extra man in midfield in order to nulify that threat.

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