Madrid, Barça meet in crucial clásico

2012-04-19 09:47

Madrid – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s record goalscoring form looms as the decisive factor when Spanish La Liga log leaders Real Madrid visits FC Barcelona on Saturday in a crucial El Clásico that will effectively determine the destiny of the title.

Madrid has seen a 10-point lead over three-time defending champions Barça whittled down to just four over the past month, and a loss at Camp Nou would see the advantage sliced to just a point with four more matches remaining.

Madrid may be the hunted, but of the two teams, it is Barça that can least afford to lose. Coach Pep Guardiola, who has only lost once in 10 matches against Madrid, said “if they win, (the league) is over”.

Ronaldo’s 41st goal of the season – and 53rd overall – last weekend saw the Portugal forward surpass his record mark of 40 goals set last season.

Messi, not to be outdone, scored a pair nearly two hours later to match Ronaldo and take his overall tally to 63, the best since Bayern Munich’s Gerd Mueller scored 67 during the 1972-73 season.

Both players, and both teams, will be looking to recover from sub-par European performances in midweek.

Madrid lost 2-1 at Bayern while Barça was beaten 1-0 at Chelsea in the first legs of their Uefa Champions League semifinals.

In head-to-head duels dating to Ronaldo’s time with Manchester United, Messi has scored seven goals to Ronaldo’s five, while the Argentina forward has struck 10 goals in his past 14 meetings against Madrid.

“Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo feed off each other, they are apart from everyone else,” Guardiola said.

“We’re lucky to be afforded the chance to enjoy some great football players. They are decisive players. They score goals when the team is playing well or when the team is playing poorly.”

Madrid can set a new mark for goals scored in a season by netting against its Catalan rival. Last weekend, Madrid matched its own record total of 107 goals scored during the 1989-90 season.

Jose Mourinho’s tactics will be a key to the match. The Madrid head coach may opt for a conservative approach knowing a draw will go a long way to securing the title. But that tactic has always failed against Barça in a series of ill-tempered and acrimonious matches.

Mourinho opted for a defensive display in a 2-1 Copa del Rey loss in January that left him under pressure from a usually staunch section of supporters.

In the return leg, Mourinho unleashed all of his talented forwards, including Kaká and Mesut Özil, and Madrid was unlucky to only draw 2-2 in a rare match in which Barça was outplayed on its home ground.

Kaká did not feature in Tuesday’s loss at Bayern, when Mourinho went conservative again.

Madrid’s trio of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín have combined for 107 goals in all competitions this season.

Both teams are expected to have fully fit squads available for a match that slips in between Champions League semifinals.

“The clásico will be very important but not definitive,” FC Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes said. “If we beat them we can’t start believing we are champions.”

Racing Santander could become the first club this 2011/12 season to be relegated if they lose to Athletic Bilbao and both Granada and Villarreal win their matches. That would also cause problems for second-from-bottom Sporting Gijon, which plays Rayo Vallecano.

Other La Liga matches: Real Mallorca vs Real Zaragoza; Sevilla vs Levante; Granada vs Getafe; Real Sociedad vs Villarreal; Atletico Madrid vs Espanyol; Valencia vs Real Betis; and Osasuna vs Malaga.

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