Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Gareth Bale and Neymar Jr. Luka Modric and Xavi Hernández. Carlo Ancelotti and Gerardo Martino. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. A Liga BBVA title on the line and arguably the greatest game in the world of football. It cannot get any better.
With Real Madrid cutting and regaining the lead earlier this year, Ancelotti's men will try to confirm Barcelona's bad form with a win that would send them seven points away. But it will not be easy. Yes, the culés struggled against Valladolid, and their momentum is not in great shape, but Messi and his teammates have managed to knock Manchester City out of the Champions League and also thrashing Osasuna out with a 7-0 score. Meanwhile, Real Madrid struggled against Málaga -though they earned the three points- and lost Jesé because of an ACL injury that will keep him out of the roster for the remainder of the season.
But neither momentum nor form are that important in this kind of Clásico matches. The Santiago Bernabéu will be packed with fans knowing that this is the most important match of the ongoing season. Tactics and formations do matter and play a big part, but this is always an emotional fixture in which Xs and Os are always minor in comparison to the players' feelings and composure.
Carlo Ancelotti and Gerardo Martino gave some hints about their starting lineups. The Italian coach confirmed that he will not make innovations, meaning that López, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Alonso, Modric, Di María, Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema will kick-off the match. On the other hand, Martino gave away that Neymar Jr will not stay on the bench after some controversial weeks about his form. He's not having an easy time adapting to the Spanish football, but Barcelona still paid somewhere close to 100M€ to sign him and it would not make sense to keep him waiting for his chance on the bench.
Last October, Barça managed to get a 2-1 win against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou even though Illarramendi and Karim Benzema controlled the match for los blancos throughout the whole second half. Ramos had to start as a defensive midfielder since Xabi Alonso was still recovering from his injury and Asier Illarramendi himself wasn't in shape to play the whole game. Benzema was struggling a lot back then and Ancelotti placed Gareth Bale as a false striker. That will not happen this time, as the French player is finally living up to his potential and completing what could arguably be the best season of his career.
One way or another, this Clásico will either confirm the current status quo with Real Madrid proving that they are going to compete for all three titles -and probably raising the Liga BBVA trophy with a win- or turn things around if Messi's team is able to conquer the Santiago Bernabéu. Only Atlético de Madrid were able to accomplish that last September. That was another story. And that was another Real Madrid playing.