Clasico Preview: Madrid-Barca

We may only be in December, but Saturday’s Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona is already the fourth meeting between the two heavyweights.

Both sides locked horns in the International Champions Cup and Supercopa during preseason, with Barca winning the former and Madrid going on to thrash their arch-rivals 5-1 over two legs.

The match kicks off at the unusually-early time of 12:00 GMT (13:00 local time) to cater for Asian audiences, while there is the added edge of Catalan’s pro-independence parties keeping their majority in a recent snap poll.

That didn’t go down well in Madrid, but politics is for another day as all eyes will be on the Santiago Bernabeu to see the greatest show on earth.

Ronaldo and Messi are tied on 53 goals in 2017, meaning whoever finds the net more on Saturday will end the year as the world’s top scorer.

Los Blancos are full-strength for the showdown, with Ronaldo having overcome a calf strain, so expect them to line up in their usual 4-3-1-2 formation.

Barca, on the other hand, are without Paco Alcacer and long-term casualties Rafinha, Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti.

Consequently, they are likely to remain unchanged from last weekend’s 4-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna, with Sergi Roberto ahead of Nelson Semedo at right-back and two-goal hero Paulinho staying on behind Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up top.

The Blaugrana have La Liga’s best attack and defence after 16 games and have won three of their last four trips to the Bernabeu in the League.

A fourth in five would see them open not only a nine-point lead at the top after Atletico Madrid’s defeat to Espanyol on Friday but also move some 14 clear of Los Merengues.

Referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez only became FIFA accredited at the end of last year but has yet to oversee a Madrid or Barca defeat in 14 games involving the pair since his Liga debut in August 2015.

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

Injuries/suspensions: Luca (I)

Barcelona (probable): Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Vermaelen, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Paulinho; Messi, Suarez

Injuries/suspensions: Rafinha, Alcacer, Dembele, Umtiti (I)

Referee: Sanchez Martinez

Form guide: Madrid – 4th (W D W D W) Barca – 1st (W W D D W)

Previous meeting: Madrid 1-2 Barca

Venue: Santiago Bernabeu

Kick-off time: 12:00 GMT/13:00 local time (LIVE on Football Espana)

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