Se­cu­rity con­cerns over­shadow Messi’s Cla­sico re­turn

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

MADRID: An un­prece­dented level of se­cu­rity will be put in place for Real Madrid’s huge clash with Barcelona to­day in re­sponse to the deadly at­tacks on Paris a week ago. The se­cu­rity threat to what is widely re­garded as the big­gest game in world foot­ball, with an es­ti­mated global tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of 500 mil­lion, has even over­shad­owed the re­turn of Lionel Messi for Barcelona af­ter a twom­onth in­jury lay­off.

Span­ish gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have promised a se­cu­rity pres­ence of 2,400 po­lice, stew­ards and emer­gency ser­vices at the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu to form a triple ring of se­cu­rity around the sta­dium. The Stade de France, where France were host­ing Ger­many, was one of a num­ber of tar­gets struck dur­ing the at­tacks on Fri­day that left 129 dead and over 350 in­jured.

Mean­while, Spain’s friendly against Bel­gium in Brussels was post­poned due to the el­e­vated terror threat and Ger­many’s meet­ing with the Nether­lands called off by a bomb threat on Tues­day. How­ever, the Span­ish au­thor­i­ties in­sist that there is no rea­son to be­lieve an­other late post­pone­ment will be re­quired. “It is a shame that peo­ple aren’t talk­ing about sport, foot­ball or the spec­ta­cle, but it is the re­al­ity we live in and we can’t ig­nore it,” said Barca cap­tain An­dres Ini­esta on Thurs­day. “We have to try to re­turn to nor­mal­ity.”

On the field, Barca lead Madrid by three points at the top of the ta­ble de­spite be­ing with­out Messi for the last two months. The Ar­gen­tine seems cer­tain to fea­ture af­ter tak­ing a full part in train­ing this week, but it is still un­known whether coach Luis En­rique will risk his star from the start or al­low him to ease back into ac­tion from the bench. “If we can count on Leo from the start our chances are much greater,” added Ini­esta. In Messi’s ab­sence, Luis Suarez and Neymar have pro­pelled Barca to five wins in their last six league games and scored all of the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons’ last 17 league goals.

Ben­zema back Madrid will be hop­ing their own much­hyped front three can per­form like­wise af­ter a slow start to the sea­son pro­voked by poor form, in­juries and off-field prob­lems. To­day will be just the third time this sea­son that all of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Ben­zema start to­gether. Ben­zema will play for the first time since be­ing charged with com­plic­ity to black­mail and con­spir­ing to com­mit a crim­i­nal act in his na­tive France in a case in­volv­ing a sex tape fea­tur­ing in­ter­na­tional team­mate Mathieu Val­buena.

Mean­while, Bale needs a big per­for­mance to al­le­vi­ate the mount­ing crit­ics of the Welsh­man’s in­abil­ity to per­form for Madrid in the big­gest games. “I feel strong, in shape for this game and ready for the bat­tle,” Bale told Madrid’s web­site. “I want to keep try­ing to give my best, to work hard and to help the team win.” Madrid boss Rafael Ben­itez is hop­ing to count on a ful­ly­fit squad for the first time this sea­son as goal­keeper Key­lor Navas, Ser­gio Ramos and Marcelo look set to shrug off in­juries picked up be­fore the in­ter­na­tional break.

Dani Car­va­jal is also ex­pected to re­place Danilo at right-back, while Ben­itez has a big de­ci­sion over whether to start James Ro­driguez af­ter he proved his match fit­ness by play­ing 180 min­utes for Colom­bia over the past week. Other than Messi, Barca’s other in­jury con­cern is over Ivan Rakitic, who is doubt­ful with a calf in­jury. The clash be­tween the top two will favour third­placed Atletico Madrid should they man­age to win at Real Betis tomorrow. Diego Sime­one’s men sit just one point adrift of Real Madrid. — AFP

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