Madrid: The 168th La Liga “Clasico” between in-form Real Madrid and an erratic Barcelona could see the table-toppers take a big step towards winning the title and sound the death knell for the champions bid for a fifth triumph in six years.
Leaders Real host their arch-rival at the Bernabeu on Sunday in one of soccer’s most emotive occasions, featuring a clash of the world’s two richest clubs, the two best players — Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca’s Lionel Messi — and watched by hundreds of millions around the world.
Real, on 70 points with 10 games left, are in much better shape going into the match and have put together an unbeaten run of 31 matches in all competitions since they lost 1-2 at Barca in La Liga at the end of October.
Barca, four points behind Real in third and a point adrift of surprise packages Atletico Madrid in second, slipped to surprise recent defeats at Real Valladolid and Real Sociedad and badly need a win to re-ignite their campaign.
The stage is set for another grand spectacle, when some of the game’s most expensive and best-paid talents, including the likes of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema for Real and Neymar and Alexis Sanchez for Barca, will seek to make their mark.
Like Ronaldo, who has netted 12 times against Barca since joining Real in 2009, Messi has been on scintillating form in recent weeks and the Argentina forward can overtake Real great and compatriot Alfredo Di Stefano as the leading marksman in “Clasicos” if he can score a 19th goal on Sunday.
“Now is the crunch time in the season, when things are won and lost so we need to keep our performances up and keep winning games,” Bale said after Real secured their place in the Champions League quarter finals on Tuesday.
“We will treat the game against Barcelona as just another match,” added Baler, who played just over an hour of his first “Clasico” at the Nou Camp in October without making much of an impact.