The big­gest game on the planet

No other match in foot­ball grabs as much wide at­ten­tion as the show­downs be­tween Barcelona and Real Madrid

CityPress - - Sport - PETER AUF DER HEYDE sports@city­press.co.za

When you ask foot­ball fans in Soweto, Dallas or Mum­bai what the great­est club foot­ball match in the world is, most will not take a sec­ond be­fore an­swer­ing: El Cla­sico. No other game grabs as much at­ten­tion among the foot­balling com­mu­nity as the games be­tween Barcelona and Real Madrid. Be­tween 400 mil­lion and 500 mil­lion peo­ple will be watch­ing world­wide as the two go head-to-head on Satur­day in Camp Nou.

The team from the cap­i­tal will be ar­riv­ing in Cat­alo­nia not only as ta­ble-toppers, they also have a slight ad­van­tage when it comes to the head-to-head record.

That, at least, is the case if one looks at the com­pet­i­tive games the two teams have played against each other. If the 33 non­com­pet­i­tive matches are thrown into the equa­tion, the statis­tics slant slightly to­wards the cur­rent cham­pi­ons.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the ma­jor­ity of matches are won by the home team, though last sea­son both matches ended in vic­tory for the vis­i­tors, with Barcelona in­flict­ing an em­bar­rass­ing 4-0 de­feat on Real in the Bern­abeu, de­spite play­ing with­out Lionel Messi. The re­turn fix­ture saw Real win 2-1.

Real Madrid have won 72 of the 172 league games the two teams have played against each other, with Barcelona win­ning 68. In­juries

How­ever, Zine­dine Zi­dane’s team will be tested if they want to make 73 as they go into the first of this sea­son’s El Cla­si­cos miss­ing sev­eral big-name play­ers, with Welsh su­per­star Gareth Bale the lat­est to check out of the game.

The winger is set to miss sev­eral weeks of play­ing af­ter an in­jury he picked up dur­ing the mid­week Cham­pi­ons League vic­tory at Sport­ing Lis­bon proved to be worse than ex­pected, and re­quired an op­er­a­tion.

Madrid said: “Af­ter tests made to our player Gareth Bale in the Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal San­i­tas in La Mo­raleja, we have di­ag­nosed a trau­matic dis­lo­ca­tion of the per­oneal ten­dons of his right an­kle.”

Bale is not the only one on Real’s in­jury list as Ger­many in­ter­na­tional Toni Kroos has a bro­ken metatarsal. The at­tack­ing mid­fielder in­jured him­self in a La Liga game against Le­ganes.

The in­juries could pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for James Ro­driguez to get a place in the start­ing line-up. The Colom­bian in­ter­na­tional, who has fallen be­hind in the peck­ing or­der, has started only one match his sea­son. Barcelona wor­ries

Zi­dane’s Barcelona coun­ter­part Luis En­rique is sweat­ing over the fit­ness of An­drés Ini­esta, who could be re­turn­ing in time for the El Cla­sico.

In all prob­a­bil­ity, French in­ter­na­tional Sa­muel Umtiti is out, while in­clu­sion of his Les Bleus team-mate Jeremy Math­ieu is doubt­ful. How­ever, there was some good news for Barcelona fans as Ger­ard Pique and Jordi Alba re­turned to train­ing.

The one player Barcelona can count on is Lionel Messi. The diminu­tive Ar­gen­tinian was in out­stand­ing form mid­week as Barcelona tri­umphed 2-0 in Glas­gow, with Messi grab­bing both goals.

The five-time Foot­baller of the Year dis­missed talks that the club was too “Mes­side­pen­den­cia” (Messi de­pen­dent).

“They have asked me about this more than once and I al­ways an­swer the same way: Barcelona is the best team in the world and they do not de­pend on one player.

“We are a squad, an im­pres­sive group, and I have never thought we de­pended on one player.”

The last El Cla­sico in April saw Barcelona take the lead in Camp Nou through Pique, but Cris­tiano Ronaldo and Karim Ben­zema turned mat­ters around. The re­sult ul­ti­mately made no dif­fer­ence as Barcelona ended the sea­son a point ahead. Al­though it is, of course, much too early to make any pre­dic­tions about the out­come of the league cham­pi­onship.

PHOTO: MANU FER­NAN­DEZ / AP PHOTO

ZINE­DINE ZI­DANE LUIS EN­RIQUE COM­BAT­ANTS Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Real Madrid's Cris­tiano Ronaldo will once more be the main ro­tag­o­nists when their clubs meet in the big­gest foot­ball derby at Camp Nou on Satur­day

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