The biggest game on the planet

Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo will once more be the main protagonists at Camp Nou. (Manu Fernandez, AP)
Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo will once more be the main protagonists at Camp Nou. (Manu Fernandez, AP)

Johannesburg - 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 in Camp Nou on Saturday.

The team from the capital will be arriving in Catalonia not only as table-toppers and 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.

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