Barcelona and Real Madrid set for El ClÃ¡sico showdown
Marta CampderrÃ³s looks at some of the intriguing battles set to be played out in Saturday's El ClÃ¡sico at the BernabÃ©u
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona travel to the Spanish capital to take on Real Madrid at the BernabÃ©u in La Liga’s first instalment of El ClÃ¡sico on Saturday.
It is a game which throws up many enthralling battles – not least between the two managers, Guardiola and JosÃ© 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 ClÃ¡sico 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 HiguaÃn, Ãngel di MarÃa 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 AndrÃ©s Iniesta and Xavi HernÃ¡ndez are capable of making an incisive pass to expose Real’s defence and release Lionel Messi.
Barcelona’s key partnership is between Cesc FÃ bregas 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.