Sunday’s Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona is shaping up to be the biggest in years, with the small matter of La Liga on the line.
Barca destroyed Madrid 4-0 the last time the two heavyweights met at the Santiago Bernabeu, but a lot has changed since that fateful night in November 2015.
The result put eyes on Rafa Benitez’s position like never before in his short reign as the Spaniard was replaced by Zinedine Zidane less than two months later.
The club legend went about uniting a dressing room that had been accused of divisions and masterminded a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou last April to expose the Blaugrana’s first cracks under Luis Enrique, before taking their Champions League crown away.
A record-breaking run, starting after a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid a month into Zidane’s stewardship, has left Los Blancos provisionally nine points clear atop La Liga, providing they win both on Sunday and their game in hand.
Madrid are expected to be full-strength in all areas barring central defence, where Nacho Fernandez will continue to cover for Pepe and Raphael Varane.
Zidane’s only selection dilemma comes on the right wing, where Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio are battling it out.
Asensio scored a ‘golazo’ against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, but the allure of BBC may be too much for the Coach, especially as the Welshman has been passed fit for the clash.
Either way, there does not seem to be any room for Isco, with the midfielder failing to impress in Bale’s absence midweek.
Barca, on the other hand, have accepted defeat in their appeal for Neymar’s three-game ban to be upheld by not including him in their matchday squad.
His place on the left of the Catalans’ attacking trident is set to be filled by Paco Alcacer, despite ‘vice-Messi’ Arda Turan returning from injury.
Barca’s struggles to break down Juventus in a 4-3-3 formation on Wednesday should see 3-4-3 being adopted in the Spanish capital, although Sergi Roberto may be forced to compensate for his side’s lack of left-footed midfielders.
This also marks Enrique’s final Clasico as boss of the Blaugrana as he prepares to step down at the end of the season.
The referee for the showdown will be Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez, who infamously failed to spot Aissa Mandi’s clearance cross the line during Barca’s 1-1 draw with Real Betis back in January.
Real Madrid (probable): Keylor; Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Injuries/suspensions: Pepe (I) Varane (I)
Barcelona (probable): Ter Stegen; Pique, Mascherano, Umtiti; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Sergi Roberto; Messi, Suarez, Alcacer
Injuries/suspensions: Vidal (I) Mathieu (I) Neymar (S) Rafinha (I)
Referee: Hernandez Hernandez
Form guide: Madrid (W D W W W) Barca (W L W W W)
Previous meeting: Barca 1-1 Madrid
Kick-off time: 19:45 BST/20:45 CET (LIVE on Football Espana!)