Real Madrid vs Barcelona LIVE!

The first Clasico of the 2011-12 La Liga campaign is here and ESPNSTAR.com will cover the match LIVE.

El Clasico LIVE

It is the standout fixture in Spain and indeed the world, with Real currently three points clear of Barca at the top of La Liga with a game in hand.

There is therefore extra pressure on Barcelona to force a positive result in the Spanish capital, where they claimed a 2-0 win in the Champions League semi-finals in April.

Starting XIs will appear here 20 minutes before kick-off

Real Madrid: Casillas, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo, Coentrao, Xabi Alonso, Diarra, Di Maria, Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil.

Barcelona: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Dani Alves, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Sanchez, Fabregas, Messi.

Will El Clasico decide La Liga destiny?

By Gabriel Tan

All eyes will be turned to the Santiago Bernabeu this Saturday, when La Liga leaders Real Madrid entertain arch-rivals Barcelona.

And despite it still being early days in the campaign, Saturday's encounter will have a huge say in deciding where the La Liga title is headed this season.


Real Madrid vs Barcelona: Key Battles

Archive: El Clasico - A match that stops a nation


One could even argue that for the first time in several years Real enter an El Clasico as favourites. There are a few reasons why this is so.

The Special One given time to shine

It's no secret that Barca's recent dominance has coincided with the appointment of former club captain Pep Guardiola, who has won three league titles, one Copa del Rey and two Champions League titles in his three years at the helm.

In the same time, Juande Ramos and Manuel Pellegrini both tried but failed to bring success to the Bernabeu, before Mourinho was hired at the start of the 2009/10 season to end Barca's reign.

And despite last season's Copa del Rey triumph, it's no secret that the Real honchos' priorities lie in the league and in Europe, and, under any other coach, the 2010/11 campaign would have been regarded a failure.

So credit has to be paid to Real's board for keeping their patience in Mourinho, and allowing him sufficient time to work his magic with the players. Not many of his predecessors have been given a stay of execution without winning either the league of the Champions League, and even those that did were still not safe from being unceremoniously dumped. Remember Vicente Del Bosque?

Secure in the knowledge that he has the board's backing, Mourinho has set his sights on Barcelona after spending last season refining Real's artillery. What was once an arsenal of individual attacking weapons, lethal but unfocused, has become a perfectly-oiled force that can overwhelm even the best of defences.

Some may call it favouritism, but Mourinho's special treatment of Cristiano Ronaldo has led to the ex-Manchester United star taking his game up to another level, as he showed with his 53 goals in all competitions last term.


Until the final stages of Ronaldo's United career when he played as an out-and-out striker, Sir Alex Ferguson was determined to deploy the Portuguese ace as a winger, and the added defensive duties were something he didn't particularly enjoy doing, or excel at for that matter.

Mourinho however seems to understand that his compatriot plays best when his ego is catered to, and prefers to give Ronaldo free rein to do whatever he wants, playing two defensive midfielders instead to compensate for the lack of cover at the back. This has allowed Ronaldo to solely focus on tearing defences to pieces, something he has excelled at throughout his career.

Another player that Mourinho has managed to get the best out of has been Angel Di Maria, who arrived at the Bernabeu last season with a reputation of being a one-trick pony, but has since blossomed into a world-class winger.

But perhaps the most important thing that Mourinho has handed Real is the belief that they can beat Barcelona, following last season's 1-0 triumph in the Copa del Rey final, which was Los Blancos' first over their rivals since May 2008.

Not only do Real no longer view their opponents as invincible, but they know there is no man better than Mourinho at masterminding Barca's downfall (as he did in the semi-finals of the 2009/10 Champions League with Inter Milan despite having just 30% possession).

Villa cutting a frustrated figure

Barca's summer spending centred on the acquisition of two premium talents - Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez. And while both have delivered on the field, could their arrivals have actually been detrimental to the side? Especially when a couple of established first-team regulars now have to take their turn to sit on the sidelines.

In attack,  Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez combined to devastating effect last season, completely destroying opposition defences with their movement, skill and panache, and each will feel they have done enough to warrant a first-team slot this term. For now, Messi is untouchable, but Villa and Pedro have had to do their fair-share of bench-warming in order to accommodate Fabregas and Sanchez.

Villa in particular looks a shadow of his former self, and while he was never one to wear a smile everywhere he went, he is looking increasingly unhappy whenever he takes to the field this season.

Despite still being one of Europe's most dangerous strikers, Villa turned 30 at the start of the summer, and with promising youngsters Isaac Cuenca and Gerard Deulofeu banging on the first-team door, it remains to be seen if the former Valencia hitman has a long-term future at the club.


Already this season, Guardiola has had to play down rumours of a rift between him and the striker.

"When I tell you that I have a lot of trust and faith in Villa, I mean it," Guardiola said after Barca's 4-0 win over Real Zaragoza in November.

The Spain international still has plenty to offer Barca, but one just wonders how pleased he can be being regularly shunted to the left wing, when it is clear he does his best work in the penalty box. Used to being the top dog during his time at Valencia, Villa now has to settle for a place in Messi's shadow.

An El Clasico for the ages

Few can argue that Real aren't a stronger side than they were last season, and their displays this term do suggest Mourinho has taken his team up another level.

On the other hand, Barca are far from the dominant force they were last season, even though they have won ten of their fifteen league games so far. Draws against Valencia, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao prove that Guardiola's men can be stopped by quality sides who play with discipline.

Real are a quality side. What they have been lacking in recent years, especially during the 'Galatico' era, is discipline. One gets the feeling Mourinho has found the right formula that can take Los Blancos back to the top of Spanish football summit.

Still, the form book goes out the window every time fierce rivals go head-to-head, and they don't come any fiercer than Real and Barca. You can bet Mourinho's men will go into Saturday's clash believing they finally have what it takes to end three years of Catalan dominance. At the same time, Guardiola's charges will be optimistic they can emerge triumphant at the Bernabeu, and will be buoyed by their recent successes in Real's backyard.

Whatever the result, the La Liga title race looks set to go down to the wire this season, something everyone should get very excited about. Everyone, apart from La Liga's 18 other teams, that is.

Real Madrid vs Barcelona News

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