El Clasico analysed: Will Real Madrid or Barcelona come out on top?
By Guillem Balague, Nick Wright & Adam Smith
Last Updated: 22/04/17 8:20pm
Guillem Balague analyses the key battles and talking points ahead of Sunday's clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona...
It's almost time for El Clasico and the stakes could hardly be higher.
Real Madrid can take a huge step towards the title if they claim the three points, but Barcelona will be out to blow the race wide open.
Luis Enrique's side are three points behind Real Madrid having played a game more than their rivals, but a victory at the Bernabeu would certainly make things interesting.
In fact, it would send them top of the table with a superior head-to-head record, putting Real Madrid under real pressure to win their game in hand against Celta Vigo.
In order for that to happen, however, Barcelona will need to drastically improve their abysmal record in big away games this season.
Barca were beaten 3-1 by Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium earlier in the campaign, and their heavy defeats at Paris St Germain and Juventus are also fresh in the memory. In La Liga, there was also the 2-0 defeat at Malaga after Madrid had dropped points last weekend.
In other words, Barcelona simply have not been competitive when it matters, a sign of a team that needs a new impetus.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, have made a habit of rising to the big occasions - a trait which is typified by Cristiano Ronaldo.
His total of 28 goals in 37 appearances is modest by his standards, but he is producing more one-touch finishes, he is shooting more frequently from inside the box, and he is also patient enough to wait for the ball to reach him in dangerous positions.
As we have pointed out on Revista for over a year, he is becoming a great out-and-out striker. And he has proved that at key moments throughout the season.
Most recently, he was the hero at the Allianz Arena when he scored both of Real Madrid's goals in their 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
And back in November, when Madrid travelled to the Vicente Calderon to face Atletico, he fired a memorable hat-trick to seal an important 3-0 win. Another big game, another big performance.
Ronaldo was unable to make the difference in the last Clasico, when Real Madrid needed a last-minute equaliser from Sergio Ramos at the Camp Nou, but you wouldn't bet against him making an impact on Sunday.
Madrid come into the game in far better form than their rivals.
Zinedine Zidane's side were held to a draw by Atletico in their last home fixture, but they have won eight of their last 10 games in all competitions and drawn the other two.
Barcelona, meanwhile, have endured their toughest period of the season. In fact, they have lost as many games in the last five weeks as Madrid have lost in the entire season.
As always with Barca, a lot will depend on Lionel Messi. The Argentine has received criticism for some of his performances in big games recently. But he has not been helped by the team and their tactics.
Against Juventus, Barcelona dropped too deep, didn't work with intensity without the ball and made costly defensive mistakes. Messi was actually their best player, and his stats for the season still make incredible reading.
With two goals and an assist against Real Sociedad on Saturday, Messi has now scored 45 times in 44 games this season and registered 14 assists. If he can add to those numbers at the Bernabeu, Barcelona will certainly stand a chance.
As we all know, however, it is not just about Ronaldo and Messi. These two sides have world-class talent all over the pitch, but when it comes to options from the bench, it's Real Madrid who have the edge.
Take the two sides' recent Champions League clashes against Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Real Madrid's options from the bench included Isco, Alvaro Morata, Marco Asensio and James Rodriguez - four players capable of conjuring a late moment of magic.
Barcelona, on the other hand, could only call on the likes of Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer and Denis Suarez. All are good players, but they are not in the same league as their Real Madrid counterparts and Luis Enrique knows it. He only made one substitution against Juve and often doesn't use 14 players in games.
While the likes of Morata and Isco have frequently rescued Madrid this season, Barcelona's squad depth has been an issue throughout the campaign, and that could come into focus this weekend if their appeal to the competition committee to delay Neymar's suspension isn't upheld.
Luis Enrique will need his remaining big stars to shine, but even then, beating Madrid in their own backyard will not be easy. Whatever happens, it promises to be a thrilling spectacle.