El Clásico: clash of the titans

2014-03-23 10:01

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Cristiano Ronaldo

Age: 29

2013/14 league appearances: 37 (no substitutions)

Goals: 41 in all competitions – La Liga (25), Uefa Champions League (13), Copa Del Rey (3)

Career milestone: Madrid’s fourth all-time top scorer with 243 goals

It is difficult to imagine Real Madrid easily succumbing to Barcelona, the team that handed them their last league defeat at the end of October.

Madrid’s unbeaten run of 31 matches in all competitions is well ­documented, but it is a victory over their fiercest rivals tonight that will virtually smash Barça’s aspirations for a fifth La Liga title in six years.

Given his current form, leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to ­orchestrate another one-man show and drum up his side to a much-needed win that will stretch Madrid’s lead over the defending champions to seven

points. Statistics show Barcelona is one of the teams against whom the man ­nicknamed “CR7” has scored the most against – with 12 goals to his credit since joining “The Whites” in 2009.

Ronaldo is unstoppable inside the box and is strong on both feet. The added dimension of his aerial play (he has scored five goals from headers this season) makes him equally deadly when intercepting high crosses.

But it is his good understanding with the equally in-form Gareth Bale that is something the Barça defence will have to think hard about.

Ronaldo and Bale possess skill and speed, a factor that makes them a threat anywhere on the pitch. Bale has scored 14 goals in 31 appearances, which is a good return for a midfielder.

Then there is the unassuming Argentinian midfielder, Ángel di María, who provides attacking options on the wing. His passes have mainly complemented Ronaldo’s tricky runs into dangerous spaces.

Madrid have suffered a single defeat at home this season – losing 1-0 to Atlético Madrid in September.

The return of French striker Karim Benzema from injury this week should also relieve Ronaldo of the burden up front.

Benzema is aggressive and often pops up to score crucial goals. He has found the net in the last two Clásicos.

Most importantly, playing in front of their fans at the Bernabéu should give Madrid all the reasons to beat Barcelona and divert the never-ending comparisons between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to a topic along the lines of a treble talk for coach Carlo Ancelotti’s lot in the coming weeks.

Ancelotti can count on CR7 this evening and hope history repeats itself, as Ronaldo’s goals against Barça always translate into points.

Lionel Messi

Age: 26

2013/14 league appearances: 31 (28 starts, 3 as substitute)

Goals: 31 in all competitions – La Liga (18), Uefa Champions League (8), Copa Del Rey (5)

Career milestone: Barcelona’s all-time top scorer with 371 goals

The enigmatic Lionel Messi should be enough to hand Barcelona ­victory over rivals Real Madrid in tonight’s Clásico.

Add to that the fact that victory would cut Madrid’s lead to a single point, and you have enough ammunition to propel the Catalan club to a ­deserved win.

At 1.69m tall – make that short – Messi has proved on many occasions he is a Hercules of the modern game.

Each time Messi takes the field, scribes and the game’s connoisseurs summon their pens and calculators to work out the records he is about to break.

Just last Sunday, he snatched a hat-trick in his club’s 7-0 demolition of fellow La Liga side CA Osasuna.

This saw him notch up his 51st hat-trick at Barcelona and surpass Paulino Alcántara’s mark of 369 goals.

The Filipino legend played for Barça between 1912 and 1927. His record stood for more than 80 years.

In a season where he was dogged with injury and missed some matches at the beginning, Messi has already netted 31 goals in all competitions and has made several assists.

But Barcelona is not a one-man show.

They boast an array of stars who are match-winners in their own right: Andrés Iniesta, Neymar, Xavi Hernández and Alexis Sánchez.

This will be Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino’s first visit to the Bernabéu and he will be spurred to do a double over Madrid following a 2-1 victory in his first Clásico, which was played at Camp Nou in the heart of Catalonia.

The coach still needs to prove the doubting Thomases wrong and what better opportunity to do it than one of the biggest fixtures in world football?

When time for talk is over and action begins tonight, Madrid will do themselves a favour by taking into account warnings from two of Messi’s team-mates, Jordi Alba and goalkeeper Víctor Valdés.

Defender Alba said Madrid should “fear Messi” while the shot-stopper quipped: “Messi is God because of what he’s given to the team.”

But the final word should go to Iniesta, who said: “The game itself and the chance to get back into the title race is motivation enough to ensure we are completely focused on the match. We’ll have to put in an almost perfect game – that’s what beating Madrid demands and we are capable of doing it.”

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