Barcelona under pressure in ‘El Clasico’ (Preview)

Barcelona, Dec 2 (IANS) Reigning champions FC Barcelona will be under pressure to limit the gap at the top of the standings with leaders and traditional rivals Real Madrid in La Liga’s showpiece derby football match, the “El Clasico”, here on Saturday.

The game is without doubt the main course of 14th round of matches of the competition, reports Xinhua news agency.

Although it comes at a relatively early stage of the season, the high-voltage match at Barcelona’s home ground, the Camp Nou stadium, could potentially decide this season’s title winners, given that Madrid already enjoy a six-point lead from Barcelona. A win would lift them nine clear.

Madrid are on top with 33 points from 13 matches, ahead of second-placed Barcelona’s 27.

Madrid have stars Gareth Bale and Tony Kroos out through injury, but defensive midfielder Casemiro will be back after proving his fitness.

Barcelona go into the game with big question marks over their form following draws against Malaga and Real Sociedad and also away to third tier Hercules in their midweek Kings Cup tie.

Defender Samuel Umtiti reappeared after injury in that game and coach Luis Enrique has commented that midfield maestro Andres Iniesta should play at least some part in the Clasico.

Meanwhile, most eyes will be fixed on the performances of superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the best two players in the world go head to head once again.

In other matches, Granada look for their first league win of the season at home to Sevilla, who are third in the table level on points with Barcelona, but having inferior goal difference.

Granada will take heart from their Kings Cup win at home to Osasuna in midweek, while Sevilla know they have the chance to strengthen their own titles claims.

Hosts Leganes will be looking for their second home win of the campaign against Villarreal, who have slipped to sixth after losing their last two league matches.

Atletico Madrid will also look to bag three points in their home clash against Espanyol.

Atletico seem to have rediscovered some of their former defensive steel in recent games, while Espanyol have three away wins this season and have not conceded a goal in over 400 minutes league football.

On Sunday, Real Betis entertain Celta Vigo, while Athletic Club Bilbao have to overcome the absence of suspended duo Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia for what is certain to be a tough derby against seventh-placed Eibar.

Alaves, who last week won convincingly in Villarreal, look for their second home win of the season when they host Las Palmas before a key battle at the bottom of the table as Sporting Gijon entertain Osasuna.

Osasuna have shown no signs of improvement after replacing former coach Enrique Martin with Joaquin Caparros, while Sporting Gijon coach Aberlado Fernandez is under pressure without a win in 10 league matches.

Fernandez lost his temper with a local journalist in his post-game press conference following a Cup defeat at home to Eibar midweek.

Valencia will be searching for desperately needed points at home to Malaga, while Real Sociedad look to keep the good times rolling away to Deportivo la Coruna, who have lost their last two games after conceding goals in injury time.

–IANS

sam/vt

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