By 90Min
December 22, 2017

Real Madrid welcome Barcelona to Santiago Bernabeu this weekend, in the first league Clásico of the season.

The clash sees undefeated leaders Barcelona go up against newly crowned world champions Real Madrid, with a win set to hand Ernesto Valverde's side a 14-point lead over Madrid before Christmas.

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Injuries have not helped Zidane's side this season, with key players including Raphael Varane, Keylor Navas and Gareth Bale all missing out on action.

Going into the encounter, Zidane will be in a rare position of being able to field his strongest XI - victory will be crucial if they're to stay in the title race. And as for the Catalans, a win could mean that they get ever closer to the title which was snatched by Madrid last season.

Here is everything you need to know in the run-up to the game.


Classic Encounter


On the 13th of August, the two sides faced off in a hotly contested counter in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

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Real drew first blood in the clash, with Gerard Pique inadvertently striking the ball into his own net just after halftime. However, as usual, it would be Lionel Messi who would drag La Blaugrana back into the game by converting a penalty in the 70th minute, after striker Luis Suarez was brought down by Keylor Navas in the box.

With Messi drawing his side level, the game intensified with the ball travelling back and forth from goal post to goal post. 

With ten minutes to go, Cristiano Ronaldo finished off a delightful counter-attack with a thumping strike into the top-right corner from the edge of the box while eluding Gerard Pique. Two minutes later, however, the Portuguese forward was given his marching orders after picking up his second yellow card for diving in what would remain a controversial call.

Youngster Marco Asensio capped off the win, ending a similar counter-attack to Ronaldo's with a fierce left-foot strike into the opposite corner.


Key Battle


Cristiano Ronaldo vs Gerard Pique


Recent Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has had a tough start to his La Liga campaign this season, scoring up an underwhelming four goals. However, the Portuguese forward comes off an impressive performance against Sevilla in his last league game, scoring a brace in a 5-0 rout at the Bernabeu.

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Fresh off a goal in the Club World Cup final, Ronaldo will look to add to his league tally while going up against longtime foe Gerard Pique.

The Ballon d'Or winner has often got the best of the Spanish centre-back but it will be interesting to watch whether Pique is able to keep his counterpart quiet during the course of the game - a task he was not able to do during their last clash in the Spanish Super Cup.

The task of keeping the Real's all-time top scorer on the fringes could very well determine the result of the heated clash.


Team News

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Barcelona remain without long-term absentees Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti, with Thomas Vermaelen looking set to start at centre-back, while Javier Mascherano is available as another option.

Paco Alcacer and Gerard Deulofeu are also out for the Catalans.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, have the majority of their squad to choose from, with Raphael Varane available again. Casemiro and Sergio Ramos return from suspension, while Gareth Bale will be anxious to start for Zidane.


Predicted Real Madrid starting XI: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric; Isco; Benzema, Ronaldo

Predicted Barcelona starting XI: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Vermaelen, Alba; Rakitic, Iniesta, Busquets; Paulinho; Messi, Suarez 


Prediction

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With Barcelona holding an 11-point lead over their rivals, Madrid will have to go for the win on the weekend or face an almost insurmountable uphill battle in order to get back into the title race.

However, the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez could prove to punish Zidane's men in what could be a close affair.

Predicted Score: Real Madrid 3-2 Barcelona

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