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Real Madrid came back from a goal down to gain a small moral victory against Barcelona in El Clasico tonight, but the 1-1 score is still favorable to the Blaugranas. While Real Madrid will likely have confidence that they can succeed going into the other three Clasicos over the next three weeks, the 2010-2011 La Liga title race is now done and dusted with Los Blancos' failure to seal all three points.
They were lucky to get a draw, though, as Lionel Messi's penalty, coupled with a red card early in the second half looked to all but lock up a Barcelona win. In the 51st minute, Raul Albiol hauled down David Villa in the box, and in the judgment of the referee, denied a clear goal scoring opportunity in doing so. As a result, Barcelona were awarded a penalty, which Messi converted, and Albiol was shown a straight red card. With ten men, Real Madrid had an incredibly uphill battle in front of them.
The hosts did well to get back into the game, though, as Marcelo drew a penalty kick from Daniel Alves in the 80th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and converted to give his side hope, and they would come very close to winning the match.
Sami Khedira almost scored the winner in the 89th minute, but it was not to be for the German international and his teammates. Substitute Mesut Özil did brilliantly to beat Seydou Keita and slip a through ball down the right for Emmanuel Adebayor, who cut the ball back to a waiting Khedira at the top of the box. He hit a powerful shot, but it went right into the stomach of Victor Valdes.
The momentum arguably belongs to Real Madrid heading into the Copa Del Rey final if one chooses to look at this game as the first in a season defining series, but what is likely more important is that the La Liga title is now all but mathematically lost.
David Villa really has been awful today. He could have redeemed himself by notching an injury time winner against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, but after being sent clean through by a clever free kick authored by Xavi Hernandez, the froward's touch let him down and Iker Casillas was able to collect on the bounce. That was to prove the last chance of the match, which ends all square after an incredibly tightly-fought contest. Barcelona will probably be the happier side - the result all but confirms that the league title is theirs, but Jose Mourinho's men will be thrilled after pegging back the visitors to a draw after spending most of the half down to ten men.
In good news for Barcelona, captain Carlos Puyol, who was stretchered off with a hamstring injury in the middle of the second half, was up and walking as the game ended. If he's passed fit to play for the next few matches their task will prove far easier. Anyway, that's one Clasico down and three to go. Next up for both sides? The Copa del Rey final on Wednesday.
Real Madrid might be on level pegging (a difficult feat for any team down a goal and a man against Barcelona), but they're still unhappy with that state of affairs. Only a win will do at the Santiago Bernabeu, and they're pressing hard for one despite being down to ten men. They're focusing on the flanks, with substitute Maxwell, on for left back Adriano, looking particularly vulnerable to the trickery of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil, and in fact they very nearly just got themselves in the lead through Sami Khedira.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Khedira's left footed effort was hit right down the middle and gave Victor Valdes an incredibly easy save - a complete waste after brilliant play from Ozil and Emmanuel Adebayor. Khedira is yet to score for Real, and that would have been a brilliant way to open his account. We'll have four minutes of injury time to see if either team can find a winner.
Another free kick for Real Madrid, another waste. This time it wasn't really a shooting chance as the ball was spotted thirty yards out and well on the left flank, but the cross was well overhit and Sergio Ramos was nowhere near getting on the end of it. They won't care about all the wasted opportunities, however - they now at level pegging thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo scoring his first Clasico goal.
Emmanuel Adebayor looked to have wasted a huge chance to get Real back into the game by overruning the ball in the penalty area, but possession was eventually shuttled to Marcelo breaking in on the left side, and Dani Alves lunged in rather recklessly. Marcelo went down and César Muñiz Fernández pointed straight to the spot, booking Victor Valdes for dissent, but not issuing a card to Alves, who was already on a yellow. Ronaldo stepped up to the spot and hammered an unsaveable penalty into the top right corner, sending Valdes the wrong way. It's now Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu, and Madrid look to have salvaged some pride here today.
It's a little bit like a stroll through the wood for Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu. As it is, the presence of Pepe wandering around the midfield makes it like a stroll through the woods with an angry bear trying to chase you around and eat you. Anyway, this is as close to relaxed as a 1-0 lead in a Clasico will ever be. Real, incidentally, have just won another corner, raising their total corner count to something like twelve million. All of the previous ones have been wasted, and... they waste this one too. Seriously, though, the corner count is 8-0 Real, which is a little odd considering how much pressure the visitors have applied in the match.
Alvaro Arbeloa has just found himself in César Muñiz Fernández's book of naughty boys for an off-ball foul against David Villa, incidentally, but now Real Madrid have earned yet another dangerous free kick... which is totally wasted by Cristiano Ronaldo, who blazed well over despite the Barcelona wall crumbling. Odd.
Jose Mourinho makes a double switch as both Xabi Alonso and Angel di Maria are recalled in favour of on-loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor and Alvaro Arbeloa, who'll drop into the right back slot and push Pepe back into the midfield with Sergio Ramos playing centre back. It's an interesting change for the hosts - the manager seems insistent on playing Pepe as a holding midfielder for some reason. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Afellay has come on for Barcelona, replacing the largely anonymous Pedro.
Adebayor had a great chance to make an immediate impact in his first Clasico. but he took one touch too many and the opportunity flew away. Real Madrid aren't going to get many better chances than that to level the scores, and Barcelona are finding it increasingly easy to get penetration into the final third. They're also keeping the ball very well, to the surprise of nobody. Lionel Messi has just set up David Villa for another good Barcelona chance, but the Spain striker poked straight at Iker Casillas when he really should have scored. Penalty claims aside, Villa's been fairly dire today.
Xavi Hernandez has come within inches of doubling Barcelona's lead as the midfield maestro spotted Iker Casillas off his line and floated in an effort that pinged off the crossbar and looped out of play. It was a cheeky attempt from Xavi, who's been his usual brilliant self today. Pepe, by the way, has shuffled back into the Real Madrid defence with Raul Albiol sent off, and Jose Mourinho has had his team go to something like a 4-2-3-0, with Karim Benzema hauled off for German trickster Mesut Ozil.
That probably won't be enough to get the hosts back into the match, though - although you have to wonder how much Mourinho actually cares at this point. Unless his club gets a win here, the league is lost, and Mourinho doesn't even have that home record to protect anymore. Real now have bigger fish to fry than one match in the league.
Real Madrid are obviously very much on the back foot after those twin blows of a red card for Raul Albiol (who'll be suspended for the Copa del Rey final now) and Lionel Messi converting the penalty, and you really cannot see them getting back into the game now. Barcelona were dominating possession with eleven vs. eleven, and now that they're against ten they won't have any problem at all dealing with the hosts.
That's not to say that it's all going Barcelona's way, though, as captain Carlos Puyol has just gone down with a hamstring injury. The captain had been out since mid-January, and he may be gone for even longer now: he's being stretchered off the pitch. He's being replaced by Seydou Keita - but if Puyol's properly injured (he did manage to get to his feet on the sideline) Guardiola's gamble in playing him will look very foolish indeed.
Cristiano Ronaldo has gone down very easily in an interesting position for Real Madrid, and this is a big shooting chance for the Portuguese winger - straight down the middle and maybe 24 yards out. Sergio Ramos, meanwhile, is off the pitch receiving treatment after a bit of a knock sustained before Real wandered up the pitch. Barcelona made it pretty clear that they're unhappy that that foul was given, but that didn't stop Ronaldo from smashing a shot against the bottom of Victor Valdes' right post with the goalkeeper well beaten.
And that's not the end of things, either. The ball got up to the other end of the pitch, Raul Albiol tangled with David Villa, and managed to earn himself a red card and a Barcelona penalty. While the penalty was deserved, it was never a red card - the referee's made another poor decision and you have to think the game is now over. Lionel Messi wasted no time in smashing the ball past Iker Casillas to give the visitors a key 1-0 lead at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real Madrid get us up and running (Sami Khedira gave the ball away within four seconds) in the second half here at the Santiago Bernabeu. It's still 0-0 in a much tighter match than the reverse fixture, when Barcelona famously won 5-0. Both sides have had some real chances to score, and Barcelona are probably unlucky not to be 1-0 up after a clear penalty was turned down by referee César Muñiz Fernández when Iker Casillas sent David Villa tumbling, but on balance of play so far a draw is just about right.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona have started the half composed and assured in possession while Madrid are dropping off and letting them have the ball, clearly hoping to catch their visitors out on the counterattack. There's already been a bad foul, with Angel di Maria taking out Dani Alves and not getting the card he deserves. So it's just like the first half, you're thinking? Yes, yes it is. Carry on.
It's been a physical affair over the first 45 minutes of football in El Clasico, and Real Madrid and Barcelona are locked up in a 0-0 draw at halftime. Both teams have had their chances, but a combination of good defense and questionable refereeing has kept the score sheet clean. Barcelona are enjoying their customary majority of the possession, but Real Madrid have looked dangerous at times on the counter-attack, and despite the possession disparity, it would be unfair to say they look like losing or that they are clearly second best.
Though, they probably should be losing, and can thank their lucky stars that the referee didn't give a penalty kick when Iker Casillas hauled down David Villa in the box in the 26th minute. David Villa wasn't called for simulation, either, despite his tumble, so it's hard to know exactly what the referee was looking at. It was a situation where the official had to give a penalty or book Villa for diving; a no-call was not an option. A no-call is exactly what happened, and Gerard Pique was booked for voicing his displeasure at the lack of a call to the referee.
The game was a tight encounter in the early going, with both teams feeling each other out, but it seriously opened up in the closing minutes of the first half. Lionel Messi awoke from his slumber and showed the first signs of what makes him the best player in the world in the 43rd minute, beating the defense and playing a one-two exchange with Villa before having his shot saved by Casillas.
Just before halftime, Ronaldo almost opened the scoring with a fantastic header towards the upper 90 of the goal mouth, but his effort was brilliantly cleared off the line by Adriano.
Jose Mourinho's decision to play with a 4-3-3 formation rather than his usual 4-2-3-1 has had its successes and failures. On one hand, it has worked well to limit Xavi and Andres Iniesta's influence on the game. Both of Barcelona's midfield playmakers have played well, but they haven't come close to dominating the way they usually do. The one failing of the system is that there is often lots of time and space on the ball for Sergio Busquets, and this has allowed Barcelona to enjoy nearly 75 percent of the possession.
A draw is almost as good as a win for Barcelona in this match, so it is Mourinho that will have to make the first attacking move. He has a wealth of attacking options on his bench, and it would not be surprising to see Gonzalo Higuain or Mesut Özil introduced before the 60th minute of play.
Iker Casillas has just been forced into his first real save of the match by Lionel Messi, who wriggled free of Pepe, cut into the penalty area into prime shooting position, and saw his low drive palmed away by the Spain number one when he seemed certain to score. That was the best chance of the match - until, that is, Real Madrid pinged a ball forward from which Sami Khedira won a corner.
Sergio Ramos nodded the delivery across the goal and towards Cristiano Ronaldo at the back post, who smacked a header goalwards with Victor Valdes helpless. Fortunately for the goalkeeper, who by that point was falling over into his own net, Adriano was on the line and well placed to block the attempt, deflecting the ball away from the goal for another corner - one which somehow led into a Barcelona three on three break. That opportunity was rather wasted by David Villa, whose attempted pass to Messi was too high and ended up being gathered by Casillas in the last action of the half.
Carlos Puyol has somehow managed to escape two different yellow card tackles without even being called for a foul, which is rather impressive. First, he tripped Cristiano Ronaldo in the early going and now he's bundled over Marcelo about twenty yards out and got away with it completely. It's nice if you don't get the calls, but he looks a little bit off the pace here at the Santiago Bernabeu and if he keeps trying to make those tackles he's going to get punished for it.
He's not the only one getting away with things though - Pepe managed to turn a stumble from Lionel Messi into a prime chance to body check the forward without being called for a foul, and he made the most of hit by clattering his head as he was going to ground. It was a little bit rude, that, and Messi was down for some time. He's back up and going now though.
Lionel Messi gets the better of Marcelo on the Barcelona right, but the Real Madrid left back threw a hand up to stop the ball from being dinked over his his. Marcelo was penalised for handball (it's nice to see the referee getting a call right), but then Messi decided to be a little bit of a child and wave an imaginary card around, which was disappointing. The booking was given and deserved, but we don't need to see that from a player as good as Leo Messi.
Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, has been denied a gilt-edged chance following a strong break by Madrid. Pepe robbed Messi of the ball in the middle and eventually the ball found Marcelo, who fed Ronaldo as he was surging forward into the penalty area. The pass, however, was just the slightest bit too heavy, and Adriano was just barely able to nick in ahead of the Portuguese superstar as he was shaping to shoot.
Oh, this will be controversial. After Pepe was penalised for handball when it looked as though he'd gone clear of the Barcelona defence, the visitors marched straight back downfield and sent striker David Villa clean through on Iker Casillas' goal. Casillas raced out to close down the angle and make a challenge, sending his international teammate stumbling as the ball rolled out of play - without making any contact with the ball. The referee didn't award a penalty, gave a goal kick, and then booked Gerard Pique for dissent after the big defender quite rightly protested that it was a fairly clear spot kick. Casillas is a lucky boy - Real Madrid should probably be down 1-0 already.
Whenever Barcelona press forward, however, they're opening up space on the Madrid left for Angel di Maria to exploit. Dani Alves is pushing far too high up the pitch, and di Maria is doing an excellent job working that flank and trying to hit Barcelona on the counterattack. If Real can score, that's where it will come from, although the next time he tries a shot from eight yards out and an impossible angle Jose Mourinho might kill him.
The first corner of the night has gone to the hosts after that long spell of Barcelona control. From the corner, the ball pinged around a bit inside the Barcelona box before popping out to Karim Benzema out on the right. The Real Madrid striker took a touch and then absolutely stung the ball towards goal, leaving Victor Valdes scrambling to make the save. He did, just about, but spilled the ball behind for another corner, which led to a throw in, then a third corner, from which Cristiano Ronaldo headed over the crossbar under heavy pressure from Barcelona centre back Gerard pique.
The last seven minutes or so have been a huge contrast in style - Barcelona kept the ball for five minutes and generated one chance, while Real have been on the attack for two and generated a flurry of chances. They should have had one more chance, though - the referee inexplicably failed to penalise Carlos Puyol for a clear trip on Ronaldo as he was threatening to break into the box.
Barcelona finally play a little bit of football, passing it around the Real Madrid midfield before testing them down the right, then switching play to the left and crossing into Iker Casillas' area. Andres Iniesta couldn't quite meet the delivery, but that was the first moment of any real threat from the visitors. Madrid were doing a good job pressing their opponents and forcing them back down the pitch, but that's dropped off a little in the past few minutes and Barcelona are more and more able to get forward.
Three minutes later - without a Real Madrid touch in between (there were something like thirty or forty passes in the interim) and Lionel Messi was sent clear of the Madrid defence by a scything long ball. Under heavy pressure from Marcelo, the striker controlled with his head but failed to beat Casillas with an attempted chip, keeping the score at 0-0.
We have our first shot of the game, and it's the hosts who've registered it. Sami Khedira earned a free kick in a dangerous area of the field - Barcelona left back Adriano inexplicably picking up a booking in the process - and who else but Cristiano Ronaldo would take the set piece? The ex-Manchester United star ripped the ball low and hard, but right at Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal. The goalkeeper caught it first time, which is fairly fortunate as there were several white shirts chasing in looking to crash home a possible rebound.
Moments later and Brazilian right back Dani Alves was nearly in behind the Real defence, only to be thwarted (correctly) by the offside flag. The free kick remains the only real chance of the match, although it took a brilliant block by Carlos Puyol to get in the way of Ronaldo completing a brilliant one-two with Angel di Maria which would have left the Argentine winger clear in on goal.
It's not just the players that are getting hit hard in El Clasico. Real Madrid left back Marcelo has just done the improbable and taken out a linesman with a wayward tackle, the official looking slightly surprised as he was bundled over by the defender. Minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo was able to burst down the right flank, but Adriano got in the way and Ronaldo was blown for the foul as he tried to retrieve the ball.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona have had most of the ball, but they've yet to achieve any real penetration into the Real Madrid half. A draw, of course, would suit them just fine here - this is Real's last serious chance to cut the deficit between themselves and their Catalan opponents at the top of the league, and they can't afford drop any points here. If Barcelona simply don't lose, the La Liga title is as good as theirs.
Our first of four El Clasicos in seventeen days is underway at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Barcelona kicking us off in front of a packed stadium and hundreds of millions of fans watching on television. Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid are fielding an experimental shape, and we'll have to see how their 4-3-3 fares against Barcelona. Centre half Pepe has been moved into the midfield in order to contain Barcelona's myriad threats, but it'll take more than a tactical shift for Real Madrid to overturn that 5-0 result from earlier in the season.
This is going to be a fiesty affair, it seems - within twenty seconds Karim Benzema was whistled for a foul on Sergio Busquets - and that's always been a reasonable way of containing Barcelona's passing game in the past. Are Real just going to bully their guests into submission here? If that's the plan, Barcelona aren't going to go down quietly. Sergio Busquets avenging his early foul by taking out Pepe. Four fouls in the first two minutes, all in the middle third, basically sums it up so far.
Barcelona go with the tried and tested approach for their visit to the Santiago Bernabeu, and why not? This is, after all, the team that annihilated Real Madrid 5-0 earlier this season, so they don't really need to worry about making any changes just yet. Pep Guardiola's side has been handed a huge boost by the return to full fitness of captain Carlos Puyol, who makes his return in the starting eleven and will allow Sergio Busquets back into the midfield.
And what a midfield that is - you'd be hard-pressed to find any holding player more accomplished than Busquets, Andres Iniesta is at the very least one of the world's great attacking midfielders, and Xavi has a case for being the greatest passer of the ball who's ever lived, although he'd never admit to it. Ahead of them? David Villa and Lionel Messi (and Pedro). Jose Mourinho has come up with a 4-3-3 shape to combat them, but it's going to take a little more than a mere tactical shift to contain this Barcelona team.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Adriano, Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta; David Villa, Lionel Messi, Pedro.
Jose Mourinho has already pulled a surprise in El Clasico, deplying Raul Albiol in the centre of the defence. Why? Because Pepe has been stationed as the defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3, leaving Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso stationed a little higher up the pitch, presumably to combat Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets in the Barcelona midfield.
Karim Benzema returns after an injury layoff to lead the line, flanked by the menacing figure of Cristiano Ronaldo on the left and Angel di Maria on the right. With Carlos Puyol back in the middle of the Barcelona defence, it will be up to Benzema to show that his pre-injury form hasn't been a fluke - Real will need him to be at his best in order to have any chance of breaking down the Barcelona defence, especially in the absence of Mesut Ozil, who only makes the bench in this new-look lineup. Will it be enough to avenge the 5-0 loss at the Camp Nou this season? That remains to be seen.
Substitutes: Jerzy Dudek, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kaka, Arvelo Arbeloa, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Garay, Mesut Ozil.
Journalists have staged a mass walk-out at Real Madrid's press conference ahead of their match against Barcelona on Saturday after Jose Mourinho refused to answer any qustions, instead delegating the responsibility to assistant coach Aitor Karanka. When Karanka first came out without Mourinho in tow, several members of the media left the room, prompting the coach to find and retrieve his significantly more illustrious boss. However, when the Special One did finally emerge he refused to speak, prompting more than 100 journalists to leave the room.
Karanka didn't seem to think that Mourinho not talking to the media was a particularly big deal, and that's backed up by the fact that this has happened before this season without seeing hundreds of journalists walk out of the room:
Every time the coach talks everything is blown out of proportion. He (Mourinho) doesn't want his words blown out of proportion and he doesn't want to be the one who raises the temperature ahead of the match. It's just one way that we have of working.
I also represent the institution of Real Madrid and it is not the first time I have sat here.
It's a little bit weird that a coach refusing to answer questions before a big match is such a big deal, but considering the atmosphere around both el clasico and Mourinho's personal charm, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that the media really wanted to grab some juicy quotes from the Special One before the match. He just wasn't going to give them any.
Big announcement from Barcelona this afternoon as captain Carles Puyol has been declared fit by the medical staff and will be amongst the 20 players traveling to Madrid for tomorrow's match.
Puyol last played on January 22nd in Barcelona's 3-0 victory over Racing Santander at the Camp Nou. He left the match at halftime and was later diagnosed with tendon damage in his left knee. In the 17 matches without Puyol, Pep Guardiola has had to mix and match to fill the gap in the central defense and Puyol's return comes at a vital time with defender Eric Abidal still recovering from the removal of a liver tumor.
Guardiola was surprised, but pleased with Puyol's sooner than expected recovery.
"He'll travel with us and tomorrow we'll decide if he plays," Guardiola said. "It's a question of seeing how he progresses but the last three or four days the pain has gone away."
According to the report from the official club website, Puyol was able to train normally with the team today and was given the all-clear by team doctors afterwards. It's a huge boost for Barcelona and no doubt a nice belated birthday present for Puyol who turned 33 just two days ago.
It remains to be see if Puyol will be included in Guardiola's 18-man roster tomorrow, but even if the captain doesn't make the field or the bench, you can expect he will factor in to the remaining three El Clasico matches ahead.
It would be very easy to write off this historic run of four matches in three weeks between Barcelona and Real Madrid as another example of the top heavy nature of Spanish football. As a soccer fan you could shrug your shoulders and ignore what's about to happen, write it off as another example of how the media can over hype games and try to sell us on rivalries and story lines that figments of some sports writer's imagination...but this is El Clásico, this is different.
Here in the United States, soccer fans are brow beaten by hype for matches between the "biggest" clubs in EPL and more often than not we're treated to a week of build up to a boring and uninspiring match. I understand the frustration and I can sympathize with the feeling that all this El Clásico talk can generate, but to ignore the super storm that's about to hit the soccer world would be to deny yourself what is likely to be a tremendously entertaining experience.
It all begins on Saturday at the Santiago Bernabéu when Barcelona and Real Madrid face off in the first our four meetings between now and May 5th. This first encounter is a league match, a final chance for Los Blancos to reignite a title race that many have been trying to write off as done and dusted for weeks. This match generates a simple question, with three more meetings ahead which arguably more at stake, should I care?
The answer: Yes you should.
On November 29th, Barcelona embarrassed Real Madrid 5-0 at the Nou Camp. Rarely, if ever, have we seen a Jose Mourinho managed team be clinically taken apart by an opponent to the level of what we saw Monday night. If you didn't watch, you might think there was nothing to see in such a lopsided match, but the drama and entertainment was in seeing the reactions and faces of Madrid's players, the realization that their biggest rivals had just showed them up one of the biggest stages in soccer.
El Clásico is one of the biggest derbies in all of soccer. A rivalry between the two biggest, richest and most decorated clubs in Spain, forged by years of on the field competition, floating along on a river of political currents. These two clubs have come to represent decades of social, economic and political fractures in Spain. It has transformed a soccer match in to something bigger than any sporting event should probably ever be.
Even with the Copa del Rey final later next week and a spot in the Champions League final on the line after that, this first encounter matters and every soccer fan should experience it. It doesn't matter that Saturday's match might seem like the least important of the four, don't be fooled by anyone telling you that these teams might hold something back or save players for the bigger encounters ahead. This first match matters, it sets the tone for what's to come. Every tackle, every confrontation, every goal will play on the confidences and emotions of every one involved with these two clubs. What happens in the 90 minutes tomorrow will resonate on April 20th in the Copa del Rey final, and on April 27th and May 3rd in the Champions League. Every second matters. It's like a great story, or an orchestral performance. You can't skip a chapter or movement and expect to truly grasp the big picture that's trying to be created.
When the final whistles blew midweek to finalize the Champions League semifinal match-up, the orchestra began to tune. Players and managers have been bombarded by the press and quietly tried to be respectful of their opponents and respectful of the journey they were about to collectively embark on. Tomorrow we will hear the first music, the story will be begin to take shape and a three week journey begins in which every match is bigger than the one before. Rarely have we seen a series of games between two storied rivals set-up to build like this series of El Clásico encounters.
Clear your schedule, set your DVR, do whatever you have to do to be ready for the first act tomorrow at the Bernabéu. This will be epic.
Maybe I'm blinded by a romantic view of El Clásico, maybe I'm being frivolous is caring so much about what in the end are just games, but I don't think so. This is what s Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.port is for, to distract us from day-to-day life, to create memories we can keep and share about the day we saw something special happen on the field of play. This series of matches are one of those chances and I'm confident that on Saturday and in the three matches to follow, we'll see something special.
Most importantly, they will entertain and help will create another chapter in the history of this rivalry and in the history of the game. New stories for fans to share. The kind stories that stay with you, that mean something, even if you're too small to understand why.
With seven games remaining in La Liga, Real Madrid sit eight points behind their rivals Barcelona. In Saturday's match, the first Clasico in a series of four over the coming weeks, Los Blancos have an opportunity to bring themselves back into the title race.
Of course, it still could very much be over. The chances of Barcelona failing to win in two of their remaining six games after the Clasico seem quite thin. Then again, with the teams playing four times in three weeks, a Real Madrid win or two could seriously affect Barcelona mentally.
Barcelona will be likely missing three players on Saturday, giving them some depth issues at central defense or defensive midfielder, depending on how you want to look at it. Javier Mascherano is out due to suspension, while Eric Abidal is still out after the removal of a benign tumor from his liver. Carles Puyol is questionable, but with many more Clasicos on the horizon, it seems unlikely that Pep Guardiola would risk his captain's health.
Real Madrid are only missing Lassana Diarra, meaning Jose Mourinho will be able to select his first choice XI. It could be the first time in a long time that we see Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo both 100 percent fit and playing together in a massive match.
The match kicks off at 9 pm local time, 4 pm ET from Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. It can be seen in the United States on ESPN2 or ESPN3.com. Stay tuned to this page for pre-match coverage and updates throughout the game.
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