Football

Five key points that will decide Real Madrid v Barcelona clash

Five talking points which could determine the outcome of Real v Barca showdown

Real Madrid need to end Barcelona's 24-match unbeaten run to realistically maintain hopes of retaining their La Liga title when Spanish football's two giants meet in El Clasico today.

Here are five key points to decide who will come out on top.

                   la liga
REAL MADRID BARCELONA

MESSI-ALBA CONNECTION

Barca have overcome Neymar's departure with relative ease, thanks to left back Jordi Alba's return to form, in large part caused by the Brazilian's absence on the left side.

"I have a lot more room to go forward and, in all honesty, for me, it is much better," admitted the Spain international.

Lionel Messi has also benefitted, with three of Alba's six assists this season setting him up.

The Alba-Messi connection gave Barca a famous 3-2 win as Messi scored with the last kick of the ball at the Bernabeu in April when Neymar was banned.

Real right back Dani Carvajal has played just five games since September due to a virus and a lack of cover offered by Real's narrow four-man midfield could give Alba room to exploit.

'BBC' REUNION?

Real's famed "BBC" front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have yet to play a single minute together this season, largely due to Bale's injury problems.

However, the Welshman scored on his return to action to help Real win the Club World Cup last week, leaving Zinedine Zidane spoilt for choice.

Zidane is likely to stick to the side that started the Champions League final in June, with Bale featuring only from the bench.

Yet, the pace offered by Bale and Marco Asensio, who has scored in his last three matches against Barca, could prove decisive in the second half.

RONALDO AND 
SUAREZ ON SONG

Between them, Ronaldo and Barca's Luis Suarez had a combined return of four goals in La Liga until mid-November as age appeared to be taking hold of both now in their 30s.

However, Ronaldo and Suarez have regained form and could add plenty more firepower to a fixture never short on goals.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has eight in his last seven games, including the winner in the Club World Cup final last weekend.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane has insisted Ronaldo is 100 per cent fit despite playing a limited role in training this week.

Suarez is now La Liga's joint third-highest scorer thanks to six in his last five league games.

BARCA'S DEFENCE

Ernesto Valverde's version of Barca may lack the same spark as those coached by Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique over the past decade, but the results are just as good thanks to an exceptionally mean defence backed up by the brilliance of Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal.

Valverde's men have kept 17 clean sheets and conceded only eight goals during their 24-game unbeaten run.

The real test, though, comes at the Bernabeu, with Thomas Vermaelen set to deputise for the injured Samuel Umtiti at centre back.

Barca have kept just one clean sheet against Real in their last 24 meetings.

BRAZILIAN BRUTE FORCE

Brazilian international duo Casemiro and Paulinho may not have attractive styles of play, but both bring a physical edge to the midfield battle that make them vital players.

Casemiro is Real's destroyer who creates the platform for Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco to create.

However, he will have to keep a close eye on his compatriot, whose ability to time his runs into the opposition area has seen him register six goals in 15 La Liga appearances and quickly quieten the critics who questioned his 40 million euro (S$63.7m) signing from Guangzhou Evergrande. - AFP

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