Real Madrid v FC Barcelona
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Kick Off – 20.00 CET
Barcelona visit the Bernabéu on Saturday evening, 360 days since last season’s humiliating 4-1 defeat when they had to applaud Real on to the pitch in the traditional tribute to the newly-crowned league champions.
A year ago at this stage of the season, Barcelona were in third place in La Liga 14 points behind Madrid, and had also been eliminated from both the Champions League and the Spanish Cup. This coming Saturday Barca go to the Bernabéu, with a four-point lead over the hosts, still in the Champions League semi-finals and looking forward to the Spanish Cup Final.
With just five games to go and only four points separating the two sides, Madrid will be looking to take advantage of Barcelona’s midweek exertions and move to within a point of first place. This has all the ingredients to be a thrilling match, a match that Madrid simply cannot afford to lose. Since their 2-0 defeat at Camp Nou last December, Madrid have gone 18 league matches unbeaten, winning 17 of them, and had it not been for a 1-1 draw with their city rivals Atletico Madrid it would have been an unprecedented 18 straight league wins.
While defeat is out of the question for Madrid, the Barca camp appear to be split between which game is more important: Madrid or Chelsea. The true-blue Catalans like Carles Puyol and Xavi will most likely place their fierce domestic rivals as enemy number one, but there are others, Lionel Messi included, who told the Spanish press “I would rather beat Chelsea because if the worst happens and we lose in Madrid, then we will stay top, whereas losing in London would see us crash out of the competition,” who would prefer to focus on beating Guus Hiddink’s side next Wednesday. That said they will be looking for some revenge for the humiliation they were put through last year when losing 4-1, in what was one of their heaviest El Clasico defeats this decade.
Both teams have injury worries. Guti, who suffered an ankle sprain during Wednesday’s training and Wesley Sneider with a thigh muscle strain are definite non starters, while Arjen Robben, who has a minor calf muscle tear, resumed normal training with the rest of his team-mates on Thursday morning. Gabriel Heinze has recovered from his knee injury and should start, while Pepe is suspended for another nine games. Missing for Barca will be Rafa Marquez, who suffered a knee injury in midweek against Chelsea. Thierry Henry failed to train with the squad on Wednesday after complaining of neck pains and his condition will be closely monitered before making a decision on whether he will feature. Martin Caceres and Gabriel Milito are both still injured, but other than that, Pep Guardiola should have a full-strength squad at his disposal and it will be interesting to see if he plays all his big guns. Captain Carles Puyol, who will be suspended for the return leg battle at Stamford Bridge, will almost certainly play, barring any late fitness setbacks.
With 65 league goals between them this season, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry will soon become the most prolific attacking trio in the history of La Liga. They are just one goal away from the total scored by Real Madrid’s Luis Del Sol, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo di Stefano in the 1960-61 season. Lionel Messi has scored four goals in his last three meetings against Los Merengues and after the brutal treatment he received back in December will be looking for some revenge by adding to his impressive tally.
Raul has scored 18 league goals this season but had only netted once in his last seven league games before scoring the third league hat-trick of his career last weekend.
Apr 21 Real Madrid 3-2 Getafe (LA LIGA)
Apr 18 Recreativo Huelva 0-1 Real Madrid (LA LIGA)
Apr 12 Real Madrid 2-0 Real Valladolid (LA LIGA)
Apr 04 Malaga 0-1 Real Madrid (LA LIGA)
Apr 28 Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea (CHAMPIONS LEAGUE)
Apr 25 Valencia 2-2 Barcelona (LA LIGA)
Apr 22 Barcelona 4-0 Sevilla (LA LIGA)
Apr 18 Getafe 0-1 Barcelona (LA LIGA)
Apr 14 Bayern Munich 1-1 Barcelona (CHAMPIONS LEAGUE)
Probable Starting XI’s
Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Metzelder, Cannavaro, Heinze, Lass, Gago, Higuain, Marcelo, Robben, Raul (c)
FC Barcelona: Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Puyol (c), Pique, Abidal, Xavi, Keita, Busquets, Messi, Eto’o, Iniesta
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