Soccer Saturday: Messi and Ronaldo in Clasico battle

Soccer fans love days like today.

Messi and Ronaldo in Clasico battle

Jon Carter

April 21, 2012

Lionel Messi is the world’s best player © PA Photos



Spain’s – perhaps even the world’s – biggest domestic club game gets underway on Saturday as Barcelona host Real Madrid in a Clasico that will go a long way to deciding who will walk away with the league title this season.

With Barcelona sitting four points behind their great rivals in second place, a win would close the gap to one and really crank up the pressure on Jose Mourinho’s men. Neither have had to worry about qualification for the Champions League for a long time as Barca are 29 points ahead of third-placed Valencia and, having both played in midweek, are also in with a chance of winning Europe’s top club competition as well. Despite Real losing 2-1 to Bayern and Barcelona 1-0 at Chelsea, though, the focus for the weekend is firmly back on the league.

Such is the success of both clubs that there were five Clasico games last season – Champions League, league and Copa del Rey – and there would be eight if they both make the Champions League final this year. Barcelona have held the edge, winning 3-1 at the Bernabeu in the league, knocking Real out of the Copa del Rey (4-3 on aggregate) and picking up the Spanish Super Cup (5-4 on aggregate). A grand total of 12-8 to Barcelona across the five games to date.

The Catalans’ league form has been phenomenal coming into the important part of the season: 11 wins on the trot. Over Real’s last 11 games, they have won eight and drawn three, reducing their lead at the top to only four points. Mourinho’s last league defeat was against Barca on December 10.

The usual suspects of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos will be in the spotlight again as their club rivalry threatens to upset the balance of the Spain squad as Euro 2012 approaches. All eyes will be on how these players react to each other – along with the centre-stage battle of Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. If recent history is to be believed, the latest – and most important – Clasico will be a spiky affair, hopefully tinged with a few moments of magic.


Cristiano Ronaldo wants Messi’s crown © Getty Images



Barcelona player to watch: Sergio Busquets. Although not the first name that comes to mind when you think about the free-flowing tiki-taka of Barcelona, Busquets is one of the first names on Pep Guardiola’s teamsheet. Providing the shield for the defence, his capturing of possession and short passing provides the platform for Barca’s attacking players, while his versatility allows him to switch to centre-back if Guardiola changes his formation to 3-4-3. Like some others, El Clasico seems to bring out the worst in Busquets as he surrounds officials and frequently tries to buy free-kicks.

Real Madrid player to watch: Pepe. One of the world’s most expensive defenders, few can argue with the former FC Porto hardman’s importance to Real. His aerial ability, coolness on the ball and tough tackling have ensured that his side have conceded just 29 goals from their 33 games, although he has an obvious weak spot when it comes to Barcelona. Being sent off in the Champions League clash last season and stamping on Messi’s hand this January has not helped his cause and his playacting has put him in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Key Battle: Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. Who else could it be but the two best players in the world? Their stats this season are just incredible: Messi’s 63 goals against Ronaldo’s 57, with the pair tied on a record 41 in La Liga. Voters for the World Player of the Year award are forced to split them, but the pair are so far ahead of everyone else in the game that it is almost laughable and, while they may not admit it openly, there is a heated personal rivalry bubbling under the surface. Messi and Ronaldo are both the focal point of their sides and it is hard to imagine an Clasico without them. There are few better sights in the game than when they get going with the ball at their feet.

Trivia: A yellow card for Cristiano Ronaldo would see him pick up a one-game suspension that would rule him out of a potentially big game against Sevilla.

Stats: If they score, Real Madrid will break their own record of 107 La Liga goals in one season – formerly held by John Toshack’s side in 1990. Barca have won 11 games in a row and could equal their own La Liga record of 16 from 2011 if they are victorious in all of their remaining league games.

Odds: Barcelona (8/13), Real Madrid (4/1) and the draw (3/1) are on offer with bet365 while Madrid leading at half-time, Barca full-time win is 18/1.

Prediction: Barcelona have had the better of the game in recent years and home advantage could count even in light of the extra day Madrid have to recover from the Champions League. Both are hurting after their European defeats and will want to prove they are top of the tree.

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