Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, El Clasico: Merengues Squander Golden Chances As Blaugranas Win 3-1

Real Madrid's initial gameplan looked good, but Barcelona's finishing was clinical in their Clasico victory. Questions will be asked of Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed multiple golden opportunities.

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Ray Hudson's Best Moments From El Clasico

El Clasico matches are generally entertaining enough on their own. Add in Ray Hudson's commentary and you turn things up to eleven.

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The Tactical Tale of Jose Mourinho's and Pep Guardiola's El Clasico Duel

A look at the tactical tale of Jose Mourinho's and Pep Guardiola's El Clasico duel. So much change has perhaps led to little change at all. Or has it?

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Barcelona Continues El Clasico Dominance With 3-1 Win

Saturday was supposed to be the day that Real Madrid flipped El Clasico on its head. Barcelona had been dominant of late, but Madrid had surged to the top of La Liga with some fantastic play and were ready to continue that form against their rivals at the Bernabeu. It wasn't to be though, as Barcelona showed why they have been the dominant team in Spain and all of Europe in recent years by coming back from a goal down to defeat their rivals in Madrid, 3-1.

It was Madrid who got off to the flying start, but it was less their own brilliance and more Victor Valdes' mistake that handed them the early advantage. His awful pass found Angel di Maria just 25 yards from goal and the Argentine was quick to find Mesut Ozil at the top of the box. Ozil's shot was blocked, but it fell to Karim Benzema, who smashed it home from in close and Madrid were ahead after just 21 seconds.

Much of the first half went Madrid's way. Lionel Messi had one opportunity that Iker Casillas pushed wide, but much of the action was on the other end. Cristiano Ronaldo stung Valdes' palms with a wicked shot and ruined a golden opportunity when he took a great pass from Benzema and had much of the net to shoot at as well as Ozil wide open on the right for an easy finish. Instead he shot it well wide of the goal.

That miss from Ronaldo came back to bite Madrid at the half-hour mark when Messi dribbled through the midfield and slipped an incredible pass into the path of Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean latched onto the pass and did well to clear some space for himself before ripping a shot that Casillas had no chance at to level for the visitors.

There's no doubt that the Merengues were the better side in the first 45 minutes, but it didn't show on the scoreboard That was largely due to Ronaldo's decision to shoot and shoot wide when he could have played the ball into Ozil for the easy finish and things didn't get any better in the second half. He looked nothing like one of the two best players in the world as he put in a shocker and Barcelona took advantage.

Barcelona started the second half brightly and it paid off after eight minutes when Xavi's great skill mixed with a lucky break to put them on top. A ball bounced out to Xavi from 25 yards and the midfielder did a fantastic job to get on top of a volley and rifle a shot with great pace. It was a great strike, but one that Casillas would have gotten to, except it deflected off of Marcelo and towards the opposite side of the goal. It bounced off the inside of the post and in for a fortunate goal that propelled the visitors in front.

Now down a goal and looking to equalize, Madrid made a change in taking off the dreadful Lassana Diarra for Sami Khedira and it paid off immediately as they began to get control of the match back. They should have also gotten level as Ronaldo got free in front of the net and had the entire goal to shoot at, but his header went wide of the goal as Ronaldo's nightmare night continued.

That miss looked especially bad just a minute late when Dani Alves got up down the right and delivered a pinpoint cross to Cesc Fabregas at the back post. Sanchez had already become a new Barcelona signing to score and Fabregas made it two for two new Barcelona signings to score as he headed the ball back across and into the side netting to make it 3-1 Barcelona. 

It was a shocking turn for Madrid, who thought they would equalize on Ronaldo's free header and a minute later were down two goals. They tried to get back in the match by bringing on Kaka, who created several chances and forced Valdes to make one tremendous save, but they couldn't find another goal.

Despite going ahead 1-0, this Clasico looked much like all of the other recent Clasicos. Some theatrical diving from Barcelona, some questionable from Madrid, Andres Iniesta playing absolutely perfect, a little Messi brilliance and despite all of the hype around Madrid entering the match, another Barcelona win. The only thing missing was some fighting, but that's why they still have a second match to play this season. Until then, or the end of the season if Madrid can keep their lead atop La Liga, the rivalry still belongs to the Catalans.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Cesc Fabregas Kills Real Off

Game over at the Santiago Bernabeu, and it's a game of two headers between Real Madrid and Barcelona. At one end of the pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo has ever opportunity to even the score when he's presenting with a completely free header just a few yards from goal after an excellent cross by Xabi Alonso, only to send a tame attempt just wide of Victor Valdes's right-hand post. It's a bad, bad miss, and one that's punished - badly - by Barcelona.

The visitors break forward and Cesc Fabregas shows the former Manchester United man how it's done, getting behind the defence to head across Iker Casillas and into the back of the net to make it 3-1 Barcelona, a goal that will almost certainly condemn the hosts to a loss and give Barca a huge shot in the arm in the title race. Jose Mourinho responds by introducing Gonzalo Higuain (who would not have missed Ronaldo's chance) but it seems too little too late for Real now.

For all of our live coverage throughout the game, keep it on our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, El Clasico StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter and bookmark SB Nation Soccer

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Deflected Xavi Shot Gives Barcelona Fluke Lead

Good grief! As if the best team in the world needed more luck. Barcelona have just managed to fluke their way into a lead at the Santiago Bernabeu, and you really have to feel for Real Madrid here. The visitors have pushed forwards but Madrid defend well and more or less clear, only to see Xavi Hernandez slam the ball back into the box. Iker Casillas has things covered, but the shot never reaches him - left back Marcelo gets in the way, but can only partially block the ball.

Casillas is already committed to his right, and so the entire Madrid team can only watch as the redirected shot trundles towards the other post and bounces in to give the Catalans a 2-1 lead. It's an undeserved goal, but you make your own luck, right? How will Madrid respond to this setback?

For all of our live coverage throughout the game, keep it on our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, El Clasico StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter and bookmark SB Nation Soccer

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Alexis Sanchez Draws Barcelona Level

We've got a real game on our hands here now. Real Madrid wasted their chance to go two clear of arch-rivals Barcelona just minutes ago, and the Catalans have brutally exploited that mistake, scoring on virtually their very next attack. Lionel Messi dribbles past far too many white shirts for Jose Mourinho's liking before pushing the ball forward to new signing Alexis Sanchez, who somehow manages to shoot between a pair of defenders and into the bottom corner of Iker Casillas's goal. It's a wonderful finish and a worthy equaliser, and it's 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid attempt to elect an immediate response, and that ends up with a nice little kick to the shins of Cristiano Ronaldo by a sliding Gerard Pique, who is presumably in a much better mood now that his side are level. Madrid are still looking the more likely to win, but now things are level things are going to be very interesting indeed.

For all of our live coverage throughout the game, keep it on our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, El Clasico StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter and bookmark SB Nation Soccer

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Angel Di Maria Injured In Slip

Well that's not going to make Jose Mourinho happy. His team might be beating Barcelona early on in this match, but right winger Angel di Maria has just picked up an injury slipping over in the penalty box, and it looks like he's done himself some damage.

Nobody was nearby when the Real Madrid man tried to turn quickly on the wet turf, and his legs decided to go in totally different directions. Di Maria, in some pain, is ushered to the sidelines once play finally stops, and although he's now back on the pitch he's clearly nowhere near 100% fitness. Should the hosts be forced to replace him, things are going to get interesting - they don't have an obvious straight-up substitute, so Mourinho will have to get cute.

Would the Special One have traded an early goal for a potential injury to one of his key players? I'm not sure, but at least he does have that 1-0 lead.

For all of our live coverage throughout the game, keep it on our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, El Clasico StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter and bookmark SB Nation Soccer

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Karim Benzema Opens Scoring Within 20 Seconds

We're underway at the Santiago Bernabeu, where the season's first Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona has just kicked off in bizarre fashion. The visitors, in their traditional blue and red, kick us off, zipping the ball around until to gets back to goalkeeper Victor Valdez, who promptly passes the ball straight to Angel di Maria, who is not on the same team!

Di Maria's through ball is cut out, but Madrid recover possession and slam the ball back towards the goal, only to see the ball ricochet off Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets. For a split second, it looked as though the Catalans had gotten away with a dreadful mistake, but then the ball fall straight to Karim Benzema and he poked home to give Real Madrid the lead inside twenty seconds.

Raise your hand if you saw that one coming.

Liar.

For all of our live coverage throughout the game, keep it on our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, El Clasico StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter and bookmark SB Nation Soccer

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Blaugranas Lineup

Remember that triovt that Real Madrid was supposed to play against Barcelona in El Clasico? Jose Mourinho isn't going to be using it. Mesut Özil is in Mourinho's starting XI for the game and should play his normal position in front of a double pivot. Lassana Diarra has surprisingly been selected over Sami Khedira, while Fabio Coentrao will apparently play right back. Up top, Madrid have opted for Karim Benzema over Gonzalo Higuain. Here is the starting lineup.

Real Madrid Lineup (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Diarra, Alonso; Ronaldo, Özil, Di Maria; Benzema

The selection of Lass is by far the biggest surprise. For some reason, it feels like this won't exactly be the traditional 4-2-3-1 that Madrid normally play.

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from 4:00 p.m. ET. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Merengues Lineup

Pep Guardiola has shocked the world, opting to bench David Villa in El Clasico. It's going to be tough to scrutinize the decision, as Villa has been in average form over the last year, but it's still a very bold move. Barcelona will play with Cesc Fabregas up top as a false nine and Lionel Messi playing a bit farther right than we've seen him in the recent past. Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho might be a bit surprised to see that, but who's to say they don't have a trick up their sleeve as well? Here's the starting lineup.

Barcelona Lineup (4-3-3): Valdes; Abidal, Pique, Puyol, Alves; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Sanchez, Fabregas, Messi

This also dispels the myth that Pep was going to go with the back three...though who knows. This could end up being the wackiest 3-4-3 ever. More likely than not, this is a back four from Guardiola. 

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from 4:00 p.m. ET. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Sandro Rosell And Florentino Pérez Try To Out-Jinx Each Other

Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez and FC Barcelona chief Sandro Rosell met each other for a ceremonial photo-op today at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, and also found time to play another round of the traditional "let's out-jinx each other, and do our best to heap all the pressure on the other team" game. While both sides played strong hands, neither can be conclusively given the mantle of "best reverse-jinxer of all time," as they both favored more conventional approaches.

Rosell, for his part, decided to take Real Madrid head on, immediately branding them "favorites": "The Liga table, the stats, and the stadium all make Real Madrid favorites tonight. Our goal is to break all the statistics." Interesting play, going right for the jugular by implementing a classic political tactic: lowering expectations. Now, even if Barça get a draw, he'll be able to say, "Hey! We drew against a heavily favored opponent. Well done!" Strong play. 

Florentino decided to take a slightly different approach, taking away the importance of the game for both sides: "At this stage in the season, I think that whatever happens, nothing will be over. Sure, it will be very important for the Liga, and for both teams, and we'll put on a good show. But I promise, at this point in the season--before the end of the first half of the season--nothing is transcendental." The beauty in this response is that while it heaps pressure off Real Madrid, it actually subliminally ads pressure to Barcelona, by reminding them that, sure, they'll have time to come back, but man, they'd better get a move on. 

In all seriousness, the event seemed rather cordial (as far as I can tell). The two men may not love each other, but they certainly don't despise each other, as has been the custom in recent years. Good to see some civility before such a trying match. 

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from just before 4:00 p.m. ET, when lineups are released. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Alvaro Arbeloa And Nuri Sahin Cleared To Play

So there hasn't been tons of news coming out of the Real Madrid camp for the past week--apart from the revelation that los blancos are planning on playing a 4-3-3 with a defensive trivot, which we can calmly file into the "well, duuuuh" section of our brains. Most of the speculation, then, has centered on the fitness of a couple key members of the squad: right back Alvaro Arbeloa and center midfielder Nuri Sahin both came into clásico week nursing minor injuries, and their status has been uncertain. Well, until recently, that is. 

Both players have been cleared to play for Real Madrid tonight, and there is little doubt that José Mourinho will be thrilled: Arbeloa has played magnificently at right back for Madrid since Ricardo Carvalho went down, forcing Mourinho to shift Sergio Ramos into the center of the defense. The plucky Spaniard will probably get the start tonight on the right side of the defense (at least Spanish tabloid Marca thinks so!).

Nuri Sahin's fitness has been in doubt for most of the year: out with injuries until November, the exciting Turk has just begun to play for Mourinho, getting time against Ajax in Amsterdam, Sporting Gijón, and Atlético Madrid. But he hasn't looked too comfortable yet in the holding midfield role for Madrid, so I would wager against him playing a significant role in tonight's marquee matchup. 

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from just before 4:00 p.m. ET, when lineups are released. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Gonzalo Higuain Is Set for an Interesting Birthday

Today is a big day for Gonzalo Higuain. Not only is the Real Madrid striker set to play in today's El Clasico match against Barcelona, it's his 24th birthday. Just how much El Pipita will be thinking about turning another year older today is open for debate, but I'd expect any celebration will be delayed given the fact he's got a big day at work ahead.

You kind of feel bad for Higuain since a poor result for Madrid might rain on his birthday weekend a bit, but it certainly sets the stage for what could be a huge day for the Argentinian. I doubt anyone who's paid much attention to Madrid this season are not aware of El Pipita's 12 league goals, but when you have a teammate like Critiano Ronaldo (who has 17) hogging the spotlight, it's easy to forget how important Higuain is to Mourinho's side.

Thus the stage is set for Higuain to potentially have a really great birthday. Just imagine if he scores a couple goals or the match winner against Barcelona today, what a party he could have on or off the field. Since we all know players scheme about their goal celebrations, whether they would admit it or not, if I were Gonazalo I'd have something special in the back of mind for today.

He could go with the old "text of an undershirt" bit with some kind of inside joke about his birthday but that's not really fun. I suggest his teammate's get involved and should the forward find the back of the net, mime presenting Higuain with a birthday cake which he can mime blowing the candles out on...or maybe that's lame. 

I suppose it's just a likely that Higuain is completely focused on the match and will worry about celebrating his birthday later but it's fun to at least speculate. Guess we'll have to watch and see what happens. I wonder if Argentine National Team teammate Lionel Messi is aware it's Higuain's birthday? He could certainly have a chance to ruin El Pipita's day.

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from just before 4:00 p.m. ET, when lineups are released. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Does Mourinho Want Pep To Play 3-4-3?

Due to an influx of talent at the central midfield position and a lack of depth in defense, Pep Guardiola and Barcelona have used a 3-4-3 formation at times this season, instead of their normal 4-3-3. This is not foreign to the Clues - they occasionally used a similar setup in Guardiola's days - but it is quite different from their normal setup. Many Barcelona fans would like to see the setup in El Clasico against Real Madrid, and feel that it is the best way to break down Jose Mourinho's triovot of three defensive-minded midfielders.

However, Barcelona's best performance of the season in the 3-4-3 was all the way back in the first game of the season, against Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine's 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 played right into the hands of Barcelona's formation and their strikers were marked out of existence. There have been other high-profile games this season in which teams playing a back three have out-played teams playing with two strikers. It's just an inherent advantage when the two setups face off against each other. A back three has two defenders to mark the strikers and another to cover.

Unfortunately for Barcelona, Real Madrid will not be playing with two strikers. They will be playing with a lone center forward, flanked by Angel di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo. They will both be cutting in from wide positions onto their stronger feet. This is, almost always, a disaster for teams playing three-man back lines to defend. Unless the defensive midfielder in the 3-4-3 drops into the back line and Barcelona is perfect in their transition between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 without possession, it's going to be exposed. 

This was certainly the case for Barcelona against Valencia, who played a 3-4-3 with Daniel Alves pushed up the pitch as a wide forward, instead of as a right back to start the match. Valencia's left-leaning 4-2-3-1 caused serious problems for the Cules in the first half, leading Guardiola to change his system. Barcelona got a draw out of that match, but only looked like the superior side after making a drastic tactical change.

If Barcelona starts with the 3-4-3, Mourinho will be pleased, because di Maria and Ronaldo will probably tear it to shreds.

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from just before 4:00 p.m. ET, when lineups are released. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Momentum With Los Blancos - Managing Madrid

Since Jose Mourinho took the reins at Real Madrid, Barcelona has been at least a slight favorite in every single Clasico. Though Mourinho has gotten his tactics right on a few occasions, his team has struggled to overcome the talent and chemistry of Barcelona. For the first time since Mourinho and Guardiola have managed these sides, Real Madrid is expected to come away with a win, or at least look like the side in control of a draw at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. They're three points ahead in the table with one game in hand, effectively holding a six-point lead in La Liga.

This match is being touted as a possible title decider, and it's only December. As SB Nation's Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid points out, Barcelona are currently in a bit of a hole. If they drop all three points in this Clasico, they will have a long, tough road back to the top of the table.

The previous weeks haven't been very kind to the 2010-2011 Spanish Champions. Barcelona have dropped a couple important points which means that they are now three points behind league leaders Real Madrid having played one game more. However, the Catalans have picked themselves up in a dramatic fashion, crushing Levante 5-0 in the league as well as sweeping aside Bate Borisov 4-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday. They will be hoping to continue to ride this momentum into the match. If Barcelona edge out Madrid come Saturday, both teams will be tied at the top with Los Blancos having a game in hand. But if Barcelona lose this Classico, they could be on their way to being nine points off their rivals.    

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from just before 4:00 p.m. ET, when lineups are released. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Andres Iniesta The Key Man - Barca Blaugranes

The faces of FC Barcelona are some of the biggest names in world football. Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol have become the players most associated with the Blaugranas over the years, but on current form, it's debatable that none of them are the most important player for Barcelona. Going into El Clasico against Real Madrid, Andres Iniesta could be the man most likely to make a massive impact for Barcelona. He's been overshadowed by Xavi in the past, but he's been Barcelona's best creative force early in this season.

Barcelona have struggled to break down Real Madrid when they've played their trivot tactics, playing with three midfielders with defensive responsibilities instead of two, plus a trequarista. It's going to be difficult for Barcelona to get through them, and according to SB Nation's FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes, Iniesta is the man to make it happen.

Iniesta takes up position on the attacking edge of midfield. While Xavi tracks back to help bring the ball up, Andrés stays focused on goal, no matter if he's 35 yards out. Always aware of the opposing defense and the position of his own strikers, by the time Barça get him the ball, Iniesta has an ideal attacking scenario fully formed in his sizable skull.

With dribbling abilities second to none, and a fair amount of quicks remaining in his 27-year-old legs, Iniesta is a pure danger man on the ball. Inviting defenders to close him down too tightly, Iniesta can get past anybody that doesn't give him enough respect. If space is given, he'll eat it up quickly, getting as close to goal and attracting as many defenders as possible. When the moment is right, he'll unleash a dagger through-ball, take a crack of his own, or win a corner kick.

Not only is Iniesta incredibly skilled and in excellent form, he's as clutch as they come. His game-winning goals at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League semifinal and in the World Cup final are two of the biggest goals in world football, period over the last three years. While the commentary may be focused on Messi and Xavi, Iniesta is just as big for the Cules.

We'll have live coverage of El Clasico from just before 4:00 p.m. ET, when lineups are released. For more on the two teams, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. Check out SB Nation Soccer and our El Clasico StoryStream for more in the build-up to the game. For more from around the world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona, 2011 El Clasico: Preview, Time, TV Schedule, And Where To Watch Online

Real Madrid and Barcelona face off in El Clasico on Saturday, with neither team facing serious fitness problems. Real Madrid are the slight favorites, but Barcelona has had the slight upper hand recently.

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