Barcelona and Real Madrid set for El Clásico showdown

Marta Campderrós looks at some of the intriguing battles set to be played out in Saturday's El Clásico at the Bernabéu

cristiano ronaldo lionel messi
Key battle: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will renew rivalries on Saturday F Schertzer, via Flickr

cristiano ronaldo lionel messi

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona travel to the Spanish capital to take on Real Madrid at the Bernabéu in La Liga’s first instalment of El Clásico on Saturday.

It is a game which throws up many enthralling battles Рnot least between the two managers, Guardiola and Jos̩ Mourinho.

In recent encounters, the winner has been the side who maintained composure amid the intense atmosphere generated by one of football’s fiercest derbies.

Barcelona have not lost in the capital against Los Blancos since Guardiola took charge, with the Catalans winning twice, including a stunning 6-2 victory in 2009.

However, for the first time in three seasons it is Mourinho’s team who approach El Clásico as the narrow favourites, leading La Liga by three points and with his side in excellent form.

The Portuguese manager has imposed his style of play on Real, implementing a more direct and penetrating game-plan which has delivered impressive results.

One of the big talking points ahead of the fixture is whether Mourinho will persevere with the attacking approach which has seen Real score a staggering 26 goals in their last six games.

The former Chelsea boss could well opt to revert to a more defensive style in an attempt to contain Barcelona similar to the one he employed last season when the two sides met on five occasions.

Real can be devastating on the counter-attack with the pace of Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel di María and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real will be particularly keen to take advantage of Ronaldo’s acceleration where possible, while midfielder Xabi Alonso will provide the vital link between the back four and the Portuguese winger.

And Mourinho will encourage his players to press Barcelona and look to captitalise on any mistakes in midfield.

Should Real allow Barcelona time to dictate play then expect Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández are capable of making an incisive pass to expose Real’s defence and release Lionel Messi.

Barcelona’s key partnership is between Cesc Fàbregas and Lionel Messi, who have shown a great understanding since the former Arsenal captain made his much-anticipated return to Camp Nou.

Their link-up play will be vital for Barcelona as they look to continue their superb form in the capital.

And of course once again the main attraction of the derby will be the tussle for the limelight between Messi and Ronaldo.

The pair have both scored 17 goals in La Liga this season and the outcome of the 163rd meeting between the two sides in the Spanish league is likely to rest on these two’s shoulders.

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