For the last few years it has been Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo whenever an El Clasico has been upon us. Now Messi and Ronaldo have a couple of - rather expensive - sidekicks to add to the drama, mystique and excitement that always surrounds a match between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi during a training session ahead of the El Clasico against Real Madrid, October 25
Usually whenever these two teams meet in La Liga, irrespective of the date, it is a contest between the top two teams in the Spanish league. However, not this time, though. Atletico Madrid, for the first nine games at least, have done their best to try and break the duopoly that has been the norm now for so many years in Spain.
Therefore when Barcelona host Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Saturday evening, it will be first against third, with Barca having an opportunity to increase the gap between the two rivals to six points with a win, while Real can go level with three points of their own.
Barcelona started the new season, under new manager Gerardo Martino, with eight wins in a row, before Osasuna held them to a goalless draw to end their 100 percent record last Saturday.
Real Madrid have been a bit up and down this season, and have not really found their true form under Carlo Ancelotti.
"The key is to have the courage and personality to play our football, not just to defend and wait," Ancelotti said. "We need to show our character and personality. We have to go to Barcelona and try to play football."
Both sides rely heavily on their talismans with Messi and Ronaldo yet again averaging over a goal a game already this season. However, in a game of this magnitude, it might be time for the expensively-assembled sidekicks to make a mark.
Neymar and Gareth Bale will play in their first El Clasico, and nothing can prepare them for what they are about to experience on that pitch in a few hours' time.
There is little doubt that Neymar has had the much better start to life at his new club than Bale, with the Welshman struggling with niggling little injuries due to a lack of a proper preseason.
The world's most expensive player -- or second most, depending on who you listen to -- will be raring to finally put a stamp of himself in Real Madrid history, and there really is no better way to announce yourself than by putting in a memorable performance in the El Clasico.
Team News: Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has recovered from his injury and is available for selection but Jordi Alba and Ibrahim Afellay remain ruled out.
Real Madrid will be without long-term injury victim Xabi Alonso, but Carlo Ancelotti has the rest of the squad available and at his disposal, with the Italian saying he will be sticking to the 4-3-3 formation that he employed in the win over Juventus on Wednesday. Goalkeeper Diego Lopez is set to replace Iker Casillas in goal, with Ancelotti set to maintain his preference for the former in La Liga games.
Key men: Barcelona: Messi and Neymar will be the cynosure and if the duo remains on the same wavelength for the entire 90 minutes, then Barca will have the edge.
Real Madrid: Ronaldo has been in prime form so far this season and will look to add to his El Clasico tally. It will be interesting to see if Ancelotti uses Bale from the start, because the Welshman's searing pace can make a big impact in counterattacks.
Where to watch
The game is scheduled for a 9.30 p.m. IST start on Saturday with live coverage on ESPN and ESPN HD. You can also catch the match live online by clicking the official link HERE.
Expected lineups: Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Fabregas, Messi, Neymar.
Real Madrid: Lopez; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Khedira, Isco, Illarramendi; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
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