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El Clásico, FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Strikers preview

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The top two attacking trios in the world face each other on Sunday.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have, without any shred of doubt, the two best attacking trios in the world. Suárez's ban and Barcelona's sloppy Fall term seemed to indicate that the BBC had the edge, but the recent events may suggest that the MSN trio is even deadlier than our own. What we know for sure is that the team whose frontline is most inspired on Sunday will have most of the odds to win El Clásico.

Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo, with thirty goals in La Liga, is Real Madrid's main offensive argument. His flying start of the season made him reach the unbelievable number of twenty-five goals before the Christmas break, but his output has been reduced drastically ever since. Fortunately, the game against Elche seemed to indicate he is in shape again, and he confirmed it in Real Madrid's last two ones, against Schalke 04 and Levante. Three of his last four goals were a consequence of his excellent aerial play, which may give him the edge over Gerard Piqué, but we will need more from Ronaldo if we are going to calm down the Camp Nou once again.

Gareth Bale, who did not take part in the first Clásico of the season, may be the best weapon Real Madrid has to win on Sunday. Playing as a right winger, his area of action will be covered by Jordi Alba, Jérémy Mathieu and Andrés Iniesta, and none of them are defensive experts that can keep focused for ninety minutes to neutralize the Carvajal-Modric-Bale triangle. If Gareth is as vigorous as he was last Sunday and Real Madrid is able to set the spotlight for him, he will either have a lot of chances to shoot or will take Mathieu out of place, thus leaving enough space for Benzema or Modric to finalize his actions in the box.

And for Ronaldo and Bale to shine, Benzema will need to do his duty as well. Karim's wisdom will be essential for him to take profit of the space that Ronaldo's and Bale's onslaughts will open, but also to drag the centerbacks far from the wings for them to have one-on-one situations against the full-backs. His work-rate without the ball will also be very important, as he will have to man-mark Javier Mascherano when Barcelona execute their Lavolpian scheme, and a bad first pass by the Jefecito can result in a fast steal-and-run onto Bravo's goal for Los Blancos.

FC Barcelona

It is not hard to tell that Lionel Messi will be Barcelona's man to watch on Sunday. For the first time, probably, since 2011, Messi looks capable of doing anything we could imagine... or even more. It has been a hard path for him, as Luis Enrique wanted to make him the catalyst of Barcelona's offensive gameplay from the #10 position, but that approach did not seem to work. A few weeks ago, however, Lucho put Messi back on the right wing and there, with less opposition, the Argentinian has dusted off his dribble book and got to look almost unstoppable. He is still free to approach the box and, as a result, his scoring numbers remain as stunning as usual, and he has recently become La Liga's top scorer, with thirty-two, and the player with more assists, with fourteen. If Los Blancos are able to control Messi's actions, most of their job will be done.

The former Liverpool striker Luis Suárez deserves credit for Messi's recent brightness. The Uruguayan's extraordinary work-rate off the ball is a tremendous distraction for the rivals, that can't just focus on the Argentinian with Suárez moving around. He can fall to the wings and make a difference with his dribble there, but can also be a threat in the box, as no centerback in the world will have a clear physical advantage over him. Despite his shot accuracy is poorer than what he showed in the Premier League, he should never be given free space if he is less than 25 meters away from the goal, because he has proved that he can score from anywhere.

And lastly, but not of less importance, comes Neymar, who is much more dangerous now that he is adapted to European football than he was last season, and who might be the most difficult man to mark given the unpredictability of his moves. He will start on the left wing, but his speed will take him anywhere if he is given the chance to run. His samba-like dribbling will be a total pain for all Real Madrid players, that should not fall for his tricks and let him dance whenever he is far from our box, as he is a great cause of yellow cards. If he receives the ball upfront, however, he will need to be blocked as soon as possible, as his scoring appetite is much stronger this season than it was before, as his seventeen league goals prove.

Bench players

Two Canarians will sit on the bench waiting for a chance in the second half. Pedro and Jesé Rodríguez are both explosive players that can serve as a trigger in case anything goes wrong, but their current state makes it impossible for them to be a real alternative. Given that both Barcelona and Real Madrid will have three strikers on the field, it seems quite unlikely that we will see either of them getting any game-time in El Clásico.