By Toyin Akiode
Real Madrid can take a leap toward securing this season’s La Liga title when they play host to Barcelona in the second of this season’s El Clasico meetings on Sunday at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Los Blancos lead second-placed Barca by three points with a game in hand heading into Sunday’s showdown, where victory for the hosts could see the crown’s destination decided considering only a few games remain in the season.
After exiting the UEFA Champions League in midweek following a 0-0 stalemate at home to Juventus—completing a 3-0 aggregate defeat in the quarter-final clash—Barca will be motivated to resurrect their league chances.
Could he become the special one?
Meanwhile, manager Zinedine Zidane’s side can advance their prospects of a double this season, having progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League following their 6-3 aggregate hammering of Bayern Munich in the last eight.
No matter the circumstances, an El Clasico collision never fails to entertain, and you can find all the necessary viewing information, complete with a match preview.
No Neymar, No Hope?
His absence could tell for Barca!
Unfortunately for Barcelona’s chances of stealing a win in the Spanish capital this Sunday, Brazil maestro Neymar doesn’t look as though he’ll be available to feature for the visitors.
Spanish daily Marca reported on Thursday that an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was his only hope of having his suspension overturned. Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic told Sky Sports‘ La Liga World he and his team-mates now wish to win the clash for their banned brother in arms:
I don’t think it needs repeating that he is an important player. That [Neymar’s suspension] is not good is so, but it is what it is. We need to understand the situation and push on.
In the past we have already shown that we can also win when Neymar isn’t playing. Of course, it would be much better to have him with us, because he is one of the two or three best players in the world.
We have a lot of confidence and we have a very strong team. We want to show Neymar that when he is not with us we can still do it, and hopefully we can take a victory for him.
The Croatian is right in that Sunday’s duel would be far less complicated with Neymar around. Unfortunately the South American is paying the price for the dissent he showed after being sent off against Real Sociedad earlier this month.
The league campaign is of particular importance for Neymar and team mates following Wednesday’s Champions League exit, where the forward was left distraught in the face of defeat, via BT Sport:
The Blaugrana are a much more threatening beast with Neymar in their lineup, and the Brazilian has at times outshone the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez this season.
It’s just Barca’s luck that while they’ll likely be without their wing wizard, Real’s Gareth Bale made his return to training on Thursday and could be rushed back from his calf injury in time for Sunday’s blockbuster per the Mirror’s James Whaling.
Although six games remain in their league campaign altogether, Barcelona will be under no illusions leading up to Sunday’s clash: lose at the Bernabeu, and their chances at the title will effectively be extinguished.
Former Real midfielder Ruben de la Red put the tense setting into words this week, taking special note of the fact Barca travel to the capital after a patch of streaky form, per Daniel Lopez Peinado of Marca:
By winning, Real Madrid can deliver a knockout blow in LaLiga, given that their lead would be practically insurmountable. Barcelona don’t come into this in their best form after exiting the Champions League and failing to score a single goal [against Juventus], so the players will have that on their mind.
Neymar’s absence [due to suspension] isn’t a decisive one, but it is an important one, as he has been one of the team’s best players.
De la Red also praised Zidane for leading Real to the semi-finals of the Champions League for a second season in succession, maintaining his 100 percent record in that regard after almost 18 months in the job.
Cristiano Ronaldo arose to power Real past Bayern with a hat-trick performance in midweek, and La Liga recently celebrated Ronaldo’s scoring exploits against Barca at the Camp Nou in December 2003:
Now there’s a newer talisman going by that mantle, but one no less influential as the Portuguese Ronaldo seeks revenge for Real’s last home league clash against Barca, when they were thumped 4-0 in November 2015.
Barcelona have scored four times in each of their last two league trips to the Bernabeu, but without Neymar, and manager Luis Enrique entering his last derby before leaving the Blaugrana, the guests will struggle to uphold that pattern.
Culled from Bleacher Report.