By Ralph Chery
The new episode of the world’s most prominent soccer game, El Clasico, is almost ready for us – if not a little early – as Real Madrid host Barcelona on Saturday at 7a.m. Eastern time—two days before Christmas.
The most notable feature of Saturday’s El Clasico is that Madrid is in the midst of a substandard season in Spain, sitting 11 points below Barca. Catching up to Barcelona is a close to impossible task for Los Blancos, in fact the club has never won the title after falling away from first place by at least eight points.
Captain Sergio Ramos noted how valuable a win on Saturday is in their aim to catch up to their rival after expressing how significant El Clasico is.
“It’s a really big one, no words can do it justice. It’s a different sort of game,” Ramos said. “It’s the most important match in world football, and given the points difference ahead of kick-off, we’ve got to win it to keep ourselves in the hunt in La Liga.”
Real’s playmaker Luka Modric insists that the club is still eager to win La Liga despite being so far below Barcelona in points.
“We want to win every possible title again,” Modric said. “We are there in the league and we will give everything we can to try to overcome.”
He previously stated: “We are ready and willing to give our all in el Clasico. Hopefully we will win and get closer to the top of the table.”
The Croatian also explained that the key to beat Barcelona, who are yet to be defeated in Spain, is togetherness and close marking.
“Winning will depend on playing together, on how we read the game and how we play as a unified team,” Modric said. “It is important to be together and not give Barcelona any space because if you let them play, they have players who can really punish you.”
Despite their slump in La Liga, Madrid won the FIFA Club World Cup last week by defeating Gremio 1-0 through a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick. Ramos said winning the FIFA Club World Cup “has done the team’s morale a world of good.”
As Madrid struggled to rack points in Spain, their star player, Ronaldo, was having a hard time finding the net. The Portuguese is going through is worst season in Spain, in terms of goals, tallying four in 11 outings.
Ronaldo informed France Football that he’s still the best player in the world in spite of his low scoring form in domestic action.
“There is not a more complete player than me and I believe I am the best player in the history of football, in the good and the bad moments,” he said.
Although he’s only netted four goals in La Liga, Ronaldo leads the UEFA Champions League in scoring, bagging nine goals in six matches as well as scoring twice in the Club World Cup in as many matches.
Furthermore the forward enters El Clasico after having scored five goals in his previous four matches.
On a bad note, Ronaldo picked up a calf injury in his last game and missed Wednesday’s training but he’s assured he will be available for Saturday’s clash.
Last time Ronaldo’s rival, Lionel Messi, netted in El Clasico, he showed the Madrid fans the back of his jersey. Ronaldo repeated Messi’s celebration earlier in August after scoring on the Blaugranas but received an initial yellow card for that and a second one two minutes later for diving. He thenshoved the referee for red carding him, an action he received a five-game ban for.
Unlike Ronaldo’s prolific goal scoring record in his past four games, Messi only scored twice in his last four matches but leads the league in scoring with 14 goals.
The Argentine touched on how crucial a win is for Barca this Saturday.
“A win would be important for us. It’s a special game,” Messi said. “A win would give us a key advantage even though they [Real Madrid] are not the second-placed team.”
To warn Messi and company, Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez mentioned that Real will be hungrier to win.
“Madrid will be tenser,” Xavi told Catalunya Radio. “Perhaps they’ll be more aggressive, more attacking. They have to go out and win.”
However looking at their 24-game unbeaten run, the Catalan club’s midfielder Paulinho is not afraid to face the Spanish champions.
“We are in a confident mood at the moment,” he said. “We know it will be tough in all competitions but we are on a winning run and we are very solid as a team.”
Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele is back in training but will unlikely play in El Clasico as his coach Ernesto Valverde insisted that the youngster will return in January.