Real Madrid go into the first Clasico of the season against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu Saturday under intense pressure to win.
Lose, and their title bid for the 2017-18 campaign will be all but over. An inconsistent start to the season, paired with an unbeaten run for Barca, sees Los Blancos 11 points behind the league-leading Blaugrana.
Real have a game in hand after missing last weekend’s La Liga fixtures to win the FIFA Club World Cup.
But should Barcelona win on Sunday and stretch their lead over Los Blancos to 14 points it will be difficult to see a way back into the race for Zinedine Zidane’s defending champions.
Read on for a preview of one of the biggest matches in world football, along with viewing details and scheduling information.
Real beat Barcelona home and away in the Spanish Super Cup ahead of the start of the 2017-18 La Liga season.
However, despite triumphing in the Spanish top flight last term the Madrid giants failed to win either of the two clashes against their fiercest rivals, losing 3-2 at the Bernabeu and drawing 1-1 t the Camp Nou.
Since losing in the Super Cup Barcelona have gone unbeaten in all competitions and sit atop La Liga by six points to second-placed Atletico Madrid having won 13 games and drawn three in 2017-18’s Spanish top flight so far.
Real, on the other hand, have won nine, drawn four and lost two. As a result, captain Sergio Ramos has highlighted the importance of Saturday’s clash, per Marca:
As ever when it comes to fixtures between Real and Barca the two players who are likely to have the key influence on the game are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
As noted by Fox Soccer, Messi has had more success in La Liga than his Real counterpart:
But Ronaldo has held the overall edge of late as he has picked up the lion’s share of the individual awards following Real’s recent successes in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.
Last season’s Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu saw Messi outshine Ronaldo as he netted twice in a 3-2 victory, including the 90th-minute winner.
The superlative Argentinian will be eager to steal the headlines once again and will relish the idea of all but end Real’s title challenge before the turn of the year.
Per Spanish football writer Samuel Marsden, Barcelona have some ongoing injury issues that will see a number of players ruled out of Saturday’s match, most importantly center-back Samuel Umtiti:
The 24-year-old’s absence is a big blow, but it has been softened by the fact forgotten man Thomas Vermaelen has put in some superb displays of late.
Real manager Zidane has a full complement of star men to call on, including Gareth Bale following his recent injury problems.