Clasico takes centre stage

The first Clasico of the season is finally upon us as Real Madrid and Barcelona prepare to lock horns in the Spanish capital at 17:15 GMT.

In what is set to be the most-watched Clasico in history, with over 600 million viewers in over 170 countries likely to tune in, neither has there been so much intrigue building up to the match.

The recent attacks in Paris have made for a level four alert in Spain and the match high risk, so an unprecedented security presence will be at the Santiago Bernabeu, consisting of 2,500 troops and three safety rings.

But the pitch is where the action will be played out, and Rafa Benitez and Luis Enrique have full squads to choose from, although little light on who will start was shed by either Coach at their pre-match Press conferences.

Madrid have all their players available for only the second time this season, so Keylor Navas is expected to regain his place in goal after missing Los Blancos’ last two games with thigh strain.

In defence, Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos are likely to come in, the latter being given shoulder injections, but it is midfield where there are more questions than answers.

Casemiro has performed admirably as Madrid’s holding midfielder of late, but with Los Blancos vowing to attack Barca, he may be sacrified for Isco, who in turn is being lined up to pip James Rodriguez.

Finally, Marca reports Karim Benzema will make a decision on whether he feels capable of leading Madrid’s attack his morning, having recently been troubled by a hamstring injury and charged in the ongoing Mathieu Valbuena blackmail case.

Barca, on the other hand, look to pick themselves, with the back five as you were and Ivan Rakitic’s return to fitness seeing him on the substitutes’ bench.

However, it’s a case of will-he-or-won’t-he regarding Lionel Messi. The Argentine is back in the Barca squad for the first time in two months after recovering from knee ligament damage, but his Coach refused to confirm whether he would start on Friday.

The experienced David Fernandez Borbalan will oversee proceedings in Madrid – the third time he will officiate such a game – although his performance will be heavily scrutinised following allegations of Clasico favouritism towards Los Blancos earlier in the campaign.

Keep an eye on: Neymar (Barcelona) – Having spectacularly stepped up to the plate in Messi’s absence, Neymar has been the form player in La Liga for the past two months, being responsible for over half of Barca’s goal output in that time. However, the 23-year-old is set to lose his role of main man in La Blaugrana’s attack, with the No 10 likely to make his comeback this evening. All eyes will now be on how he adapts to playing on left wing again.

Form guide: Real Madrid (L W W W D) Barcelona (W W W W L)

Last season: Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona

Stat fact: Each of the last nine Clasicos in La Liga have seen both teams score, the longest such run since 1946-1952 (13 games in a row).

Real Madrid (probable): Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric; Isco, Bale, Ronaldo; Benzema

Suspended: None

Barcelona (probable): Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Sergi, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Suspended: None

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