It’s that time again. Real Madrid. Barcelona. The biggest match of them all, in the cauldron that is the Camp Nou.
Just over a year ago, Barca demolished their arch rivals 4-0. Los Merengues were powerless to resist as Luis Suarez and co. cast their spell over the Santiago Bernabeu.
But fast forward to now, and Real Madrid know that a victory in the lions’ den will extend their lead at the top of Liga Santander to nine points.
Barcelona suffered a shock defeat at home to Alaves in game week three, and since then have lost only away to Celta Vigo. Draws in November at home to Malaga and away to Sociedad are the only blips Barca have had since. As you can see in the below infographic, Barca have had a patchy run in their last six home fixtures.
Real, on the other hand, have been strong on the road in their last six matches. In November, they won all three of their Liga matches starting with a thumping 3-0 Madrid derby win over Atletico at Vicente Calderon.
This run has helped Madrid extend their unbeaten run to 32 games in all competitions, but as we all know, form has little say in these big fixtures.
Both sides were able to rest several key players in the midweek Copa del Rey ties. Injury-wise, Andres Iniesta returns to the Barcelona squad, as does Arda Turan. Jordi Alba is a doubt for the home side.
Real are boosted by the availability of Casemiro, who completed 90 minutes against Cultural Leonesa, but Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale will both miss out.
Two key questions are being asked of Zinedine Zidane this week- “Are you going to start Casemiro?” and “Should Lucas Vazquez start ahead of James Rodriguez on the right wing?”. Right now, the Frenchman is keeping his cards close to his chest.
As always, one of the main talking points will be the performances of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. A positive stat for Madridistas is that Cristiano has five goals in seven league matches at Camp Nou. We’ll be hoping he adds to that this weekend.
Things might be much different to this time last year, but Real cannot afford to take their foot off the gas. The bigger the points gap at the top of the Liga, the better for Real, especially with a domestic break to play in the Club World Championship and then the Winter Break fast approaching. They want 2016 to end with a bang, not fizzle out with a whimper.