Spotlight on Bale, Neymar
MADRID. — Neymar and Gareth Bale will get their first taste of a clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid since joining the Spanish soccer giants in today’s first El Clasico of the season.
The Catalans currently hold a three point lead over Madrid at the top of the table, but it is Carlo Ancelotti’s men who have enjoyed a significantly better week in the run up to the match.
Barca dropped their first points of the season with a 0-0 away at Osasuna last weekend and were then held 1-1 by AC Milan at the San Siro on Tuesday.
Madrid took advantage of that rare slip-up by their rivals with a 2-0 win over Malaga and just about sealed their place in the Champions League last-16 on Wednesday by beating Juventus 2-1.
The Malaga match in particular saw a marked improvement in Real’s performance to those earlier in the campaign and Madrid haven’t been beaten in their last five encounters against Barcelona.
However, Real defender Sergio Ramos doesn’t believe last season’s meetings between the two will be a big factor come kick-off at the Camp Nou.
“On Saturday (today) we have an important game and it would be a notable step to win in the Camp Nou, but we know meetings there are always difficult and anything can happen.
“When evaluating a Clasico you don’t have to look at the previous results, nor even the last one. These games are always of the highest level and intensity.
“There are things that we have to continue improving, but it is always nice to arrive at the Clasico after a victory.”
Ancelotti has some selection dilemmas for his own first experience of a Clasico, particularly in the case of Bale.
The Welshman was introduced as a substitute with 25 minutes to go against Juventus as he continues his comeback from injury, but failed to make any significant impact on the tie.
Ancelotti blamed his mediocre showing on the overall failure of the team to maintain the intensity they showed in the opening period and insisted that Bale is now fit enough to start.
However, it seems more likely that There is no doubt that Neymar will join world player of the year Lionel Messi in attack for the hosts and the Brazilian admitted that it is for this kind of game that he swapped Brazil for Barcelona in June.
Gerardo Martino must decide whether to recall Pedro Rodriguez and Cesc Fabregas after they were both dropped to the bench at Milan.
However, the Argentine may be forced into a change at the back as Gerard Pique is struggling with a hamstring injury meaning Carles Puyol may continue his comeback alongside Javier Mascherano.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid coach Ancelotti believes Bale is finally ready to show his best form after a series of niggling injuries.
The Welshman has started just once since joining Los Blancos for a reported 91 million euros at the beginning of September.
Bale returned from a thigh problem to win a penalty in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Malaga, but was largely ineffective as a second-half substitute as Madrid beat Juventus 2-1 on Wednesday.
However, Ancelotti hinted that he could start in Real’s biggest game of the season to date when they travel to face Barcelona today.
Today: Malaga v Celta Vigo (4pm), Barcelona v Real Madrid (6pm), Elche v Granada (8pm), Levante v Espanyol (10pm)
Tomorrow: Sevilla v Osasuna (12noon), Villarreal v Valencia (5pm), Real Sociedad v Almeria (7pm), Atletico Madrid v Real Betis (9pm)
Monday: Getafe v Athletic Bilbao (9pm) — AFP.