No Messi or Ron­aldo but Cla­sico could still de­fine sea­son

Weekly Trust - - Trust Sports - Enugu Rangers will take home N25mil­lion as prize money for win­ning this year’s Ai­teo Fed­er­a­tion Cup on Wed­nes­day in As­aba.

For the first time since 2007 club foot­ball’s ar­guably the big­gest game will not fea­ture ei­ther Lionel Messi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo yet Sun­day’s Cla­sico be­tween Barcelona and Real Madrid will be as feisty as ever with plenty rid­ing on it.

Real coach Julen Lopetegui has come in for fierce crit­i­cism this sea­son, hav­ing presided over a run of five games with­out a win - the team go­ing eight hours and one minute with­out scor­ing - be­fore Tues­day’s un­con­vinc­ing 2-1 tri­umph over Vik­to­ria Plzen that saw the team whis­tled off the pitch by their own fans.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ports sug­gest that any sort of neg­a­tive re­sult away to their great ri­vals could spell the end for the 52-year-old at the Bern­abeu.

Barca, who will be with­out the in­jured Messi, sit top of La Liga on 18 points, just one ahead of the chas­ing pack in what is shap­ing up to be the tight­est ti­tle race in years.

The Ar­gen­tinean has been in scin­til­lat­ing form this sea­son, scor­ing seven and lay­ing on an­other five goals in Spain’s top flight, while also hit­ting five in the Cham­pi­ons League.

Crit­i­cism has been lev­elled at the Cata­lan side that in re­cent times they have be­come too re­liant on their tal­is­man and they now face the ul­ti­mate test to show they can func­tion with Messi side­lined, too.

“We al­ways want to play as a team, but when Messi is there he gives us a touch of bril­liance that is ex­tra­or­di­nary,” coach Ernesto Valverde said.

“Of course we miss him, but we want to miss him while win­ning.

“Messi of­ten gets us out of jail in dif­fi­cult games against low blocks and ob­vi­ously we want him to get bet­ter as soon as pos­si­ble. Madrid will be such as dan­ger­ous op­po­nent. Lopetegui’s side will come here and look­ing to show their strength and I’m not tak­ing any­thing for granted.”

Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona (L) squares up with Real Madrid cap­tain, Ser­gio Ramos in a past El Cla­sico match

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