Real Madrid, Barcelona set for crucial Clasico showdown

Real Madrid, Barcelona set for crucial Clasico showdown

European Soccer

Real Madrid, Barcelona set for crucial Clasico showdown

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Clasico (Getty Images)


By THOMAS FLOYD

Perhaps the fiercest rivalry the beautiful game has to offer will be renewed at the Bernabeu on this weekend, and — what's new? — the stakes are high.

With Real Madrid three points clear of FC Barcelona with a game in hand, Saturday's Clasico (4 p.m., GolTV, ESPN3.com, ESPN Deportes) will have major ramifications in La Liga as Madrid tries to snap the Catalans' streak of three consecutive titles. For the past seven years, the side that has won the season's first Clasico has gone on to win La Liga.

So the center of the footballing universe will, once more, fall on the historic rivalry – just as it did this past spring when the clubs clashed four times in a three-week span. During that heated stretch, the teams played to a draw in league play before Real Madrid triumphed in the Copa del Rey final and Barcelona claimed aggregate victory in a two-leg Champions League semifinal.

Earlier, Barcelona thrashed Madrid 5-0 at Camp Nou in the first Clasico of the 2010-11 campaign, a match many remember for Cristiano Ronaldo's amusing touchline shoving of Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola.

There will, of course, be plenty of star power on hand. Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real Madrid's Ronaldo continue to battle for the title of the world's best player, as the gifted attackers have both bagged 17 goals this La Liga season to climb atop the scoring chart. And with Barcelona midfielder Xavi set to make his 600th appearance for the club, all three Ballon d'Or finalists should be sharing the pitch Saturday.

When it comes to lineup choices, Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has a difficult dilemma choosing between Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain (12 goals this season) and Frenchman Karim Benzema (seven) as his lone true striker.

Guardiola, meanwhile, will likely choose between playmaker Cesc Fabregas (seven goals) and striker David Villa (five) to anchor his front line. He also has a key decision to make in the back, with one of Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol likely to be left out.

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How do you see the Clasico panning out? Will Real Madrid win to strengthen its grip on the top spot in La Liga? Or will Barcelona draw even with three points away from home?

Share your thoughts below.

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