Real hold a four-point lead over Pep Guardiola’s side but travel to Camp Nou knowing a defeat would severely dent their title prospects.
Los Blancos suffered a demoralising 3-1 defeat at the Bernabéu last December, and a similar result in Cataluña would be a devastating blow to Madrid’s title ambitions.
A 1-0 defeat by Chelsea on Wednesday night wasn’t reflective of a solid performance from Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. With 24 shots on Petr Cech’s goal and 72 per cent possession, Barcelona were left asking just how they had failed to score, even if Chelsea did defend heroically. It is unlikely to be the same story on Saturday night as Guardiola’s men rarely fail to net – two consecutive blanks is surely out of the question, especially with Lionel Messi vying for a European goal scoring record. The Argentine striker is on 65 goals for the season and with the added incentive of beating Cristiano Ronaldo to the Pichichi, he’s certain to play a key part in the game. One of his strike partners, Alexis Sánchez, may miss out due to a thigh problem which could mean Pedro Rodríguez is given a rare start. Other than that, a full strength Barcelona side will be keen to overturn the four-point deficit.
José Mourinho’s defensive tactics backfired on Tuesday as Madrid conceded a late winner to Bayern Munich in a 2-1 loss at the Allianz Arena. But the Portuguese coach is expected to persevere and deploy a stern defensive wall to stop Barcelona from breaking through on Saturday. This option has had mixed results in the past, with Internazionale using the strategy effectively in the Champions League semi-finals in 2010, and Madrid won the Spanish Super Cup in similar fashion. But there have been occasions in which it has not been successful. Mourinho is sure to have something up his sleeve – it could be an innovative training ground routine or more of the childish provocation seen in past El Clásicos. As for absentees, no players of note should miss out as Xabi Alonso returns and Cristiano Ronaldo avoided a fifth booking and a resulting suspension in their last match against Sporting Gijon. Real will be full strength, but wary of Barcelona and the force set to be unleashed.
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