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  1. It's that time of the year - Christmas and New Year are nearly upon us, most of the holidays take place, but they all must step aside for the biggest football event on earth, El Clasico. General info The spectacle takes place at the Bernabeu on Saturday, 13:00 CET (12pm GMT). Real Madrid host an in-form Barca side in one last push to save the league. The current standings look like this: Team Points GD GP Barcelona 42 35 16 Atl. Madrid 36 18 16 Valencia 34 20 16 Real Madrid 31 19 15 If Barcelona win, even if it's just December, it would be safe to say the league is out of Madrid's reach, so it's crucial for Madrid to get a win and get back in title race. Injuries and suspensions Real Madrid It's happy days in the medical department at Real, as there are no injured first team players. The defence took a big hit during the season, missing Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane with injuries and Sergio Ramos with suspension, but now, they're all fully fit and eligible. Bale is fully fit, too, and is expected to start on Saturday. Barcelona Barcelona took some hits in the last month that could really harm them in the upcoming fixture. Samuel Umtiti got injured in a match against Celta (and conceded a goal in the same sequence). He was one of the best players this season, and, although Thomas Vermalen looks solid, he's nowhere near as good as the Frenchman. Javier Mascherano has recovered, and will be ready for the derby as far as physical condition comes, but it's more complex situation for him, as he's just confirmed he will join Chinese side "Hebei Fortune" to play with Ezequiel Lavezzi under Manuel Pellegrini. The midfield is pretty crowded and everyone is hoping to get a chance in the starting 11. As far as the attackers go, Paco Alcacer got injuried yesterday, and will be out for 2-3 weeks, which is pretty big handicap for Blaugrana when you look at his contributions this season. Gerard Deulofeu is out with injury too, but that won't bother Barca fans too much. Ousmane Dembele won't play until January and Rafinha still isn't match fit. Line-ups Real Madrid Most of the calendar year, Madrid's formation and tactics depended on injuries with Bale being sidelined most of the year. Now that everyone is fully fit, it will be very interesting to see how Zinedine Zidane will react, as he can bench Isco and start with BBC or play with Isco with Benzema and Ronaldo upfront. This is the most realistic and expected line-up: Navas Carvajal-Ramos-Varane-Marcelo Modric-Casemiro-Kroos Bale-Benzema-Ronaldo We should definitely expect Isco, Asensio or Lucas to make an impact off the bench depending on the result; Lucas for defending the lead, and Asensio and Isco for pushing further forward. Barcelona Valverde did the unspeakable in Catalonia - he changed his formation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. And who would've thought, but Barca are playing better and better, with +11 and 1st placed in CL group. The formation is pretty much dictated by roster, where, at the moment, there isn't a wing player with creative on-ball skill with Dembele out. Deulofeu, Vidal and Paco were used primarily as runners to stretch the field and involve in finishes. Valverde doesn't seem pleased with Semedo, leaving him out of squad for Deportivo clash, and it's likely he won't see playing time in El Clasico. Considering all of that, It's not such a hard task to predict the starting 11: ter Stegen Roberto-Pique-Vermalen-Alba Rakitic-Busquets-Paulinho-Iniesta Messi-Suarez As far as bench comes, in case of chasing the result, Valverde could likely call-up Denis Suarez who proved as a great off-the-bench influence. Most probable defensive option is Gomes, mostly known for good workrate and solid defensive positioning. Tactical solutions It will be very interesting to see how both coaches enter the match. Real starting with BBC could result in fast-paced, counter-attacking game that provided some good results for Real in recent years. It's probable Zidane will demand of his attacking trio to press high up the pitch, using man-marking and allowing Vermalen to create with the ball. Paulinho could provide to be crucial factor, as he was utility man for Barca this season, and if he can adjust to playing on the ball and setting up the tempo with Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic, it would provide as crucial for Barca. Valverde could start the game in deep, and moving further up the field as the game goes on, and he'll definitely must be careful in going forward with BBC all lurking for counter-attacking opportunity. Madrid will certianly want to exploit Vermaelen, who still hasn't had the time to completely fit in. Transition is the name of the game on Saturday, and sprinting back on defense will be crucial, with Real Madrid having Kroos and Modric who open up the play with amazing ease, and Barcelona having Iniesta and Messi to lighten up the pitch. Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  2. Cristiano Ronaldo has called on Barcelona to give Real Madrid a guard of honour before the upcoming El Clasico for retaining the Club World Cup. The Portuguese struck a superb free kick against Gremio in the final to clinch another title for the Champions League holders over the Copa Libertadores victors. Ronaldo believes that their achievement deserves a sign of respect from their La Liga rivals at the Bernabeu when they meet just before Christmas. "It would be nice and I would like Barcelona to give us a guard of honour," Ronaldo told reporters. "I hope we win that game too so that the league is still alive for Real Madrid. "We have to enjoy every moment because we don't know what will happen in the future." Share your thoughts about this news story on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  3. Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has criticised his players for failing to adhere to his instructions of not giving away free kicks in dangerous positions against Real Madrid. Luis Suarez opened the scoring at the Nou Camp, but Blancos defender Sergio Ramos equalised in injury time with a header following a set piece. The first El Clasico of the season ended 1-1, and Enrique was upset by the fact that his team had failed to follow his gameplan and now find themselves six points behind their rivals in La Liga. "The instructions were very clear, do not give away fouls especially if a Madrid player has his back to goal," he told reporters after the game. "It is a six-point gap, this isn't where we wanted to be, we could have closed this match, we had it in hand but have somehow failed to take the win. "In my opinion, the performance of the team was higher than that of the rival, but we have to improve, it is clear. "I say this even when we win, and even when we draw. We can improve in all aspects of the game. We are ambitious." Share your thoughts about this story on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.
  4. The biggest game in all of club football is finally upon us once again as Barcelona and Real Madrid go head to head in La Liga for the first El Clasico of the season. Barcelona are in desperate need to strike back and recover from their recent dip in form, while Real Madrid want to keep their streak of 13 undefeated games going. There are a fair few points to play for still, but for the Catalan giants it will be crucial denying the Galacticos the ten point gap they are trying to create. Here’s a few things to look out for in the days and hours leading up to the match, and of course while enjoying one of the best derbies football has to offer: Home advantage might not be an advantage: Barcelona’s mighty Nou Camp has been a feared stadium for visitors in the past, but this season has seen them both overthrown by Alaves, and held to ties by Atletico Madrid and Malaga in recent matches. The fear factor is definitely not gone, but seeing Barcelona being the 11th best home team in the league does something to the psychological view of the visitors, while also deteriorating the confidence of Barcelona players. With Real Madrid picking up five wins and a draw away so far, their form is looking like it could add to their 93 competitive wins against their bitter rivals throughout history. Two star players to talk about: No, this time the attention is not first and foremost on the two undoubtedly best players in the world, but rather on their partners in crime. Gareth Bale is suffering an injury blow, rumours are saying he’ll be out for months. How big of a blow will that be for Zinedine Zidane’s starting eleven? For Barcelona it seems Neymar is a bit unsettled, with reports linking him to Manchester United. Now, normally such a claim would not even be worthy of thought, but looking at the reason for these rumours flourishing, there’s cause of concern. Neymar is having some trouble with the law, more specifically the tax office, which in one way or another is bound to affect him and his private life. Questions have to be made about whether he can keep his calm and focus on performing on the pitch for his club. The other two star players who have to be mentioned: Here we go, yet again, the duel of the two dominant forces of European football. The modern day maestros, doing things with a ball we couldn’t even imagine before they made their debuts. Records are being broken, almost weekly. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more than 30 goals in a calendar year for the seventh time running, a feat no-one will surpass in our lifetime. Lionel Messi, meanwhile, has some kind of unexplainable magic power, making him float and swirl across the pitch untouchable. So, who will come out on top? Ronaldo is undoubtedly in a patch of luck at the moment, he’s enjoying his football, and avoiding any tantrums drawing attention to the demanding side of his personality. As of now, he plays like he’s in his twenties again, and will do everything in his power to dominate this match. Messi, on the other hand, has been slightly injured for parts of this season, and needs to regain match fitness and form. This match is his for the taking though, and with his abilities he’ll be a constant threat. With Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique also training with the squad after returning from injury this week, Barcelona could field their strongest side since the start of the season. It is a doubt however, if Messi will be ready, and if he’ll be his usual self, if he is, he can cause problems for the Madridistas - on the pitch and watching the match. Prediction: Tough one to call this, and it could certainly go either way. A nagging feeling in the back of my head does say though that Barcelona will win, maybe even with a couple of goals. The boost returning players give on the pitch and by participating in training cannot be underestimated. Real Madrid’s winning streak also has to come to an end at some point, and it would be trademark Real for it to do so away to their arch nemesis. A player with the work rate of Gareth Bale will be sorely missed, and I think MSN will be up and running like clockwork come Saturday. My prediction is a 3-1 win for Barcelona, which will go down in history as the turning point of their season, and the first defeat for Zidane in the league this season. Share your thoughts about El Clasico on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the conversation.

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