La Liga: Real Madrid-Barca clash set to be key game of the season
Madrid: Real Madrid entertain FC Barcelona in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Saturday lunchtime in what is arguably the most important game of the season so far for both sides.
Madrid go into the game as newly crowned world club champions but 11 points behind Barca in the race for the league title with a game in hand, reports Xinhua news agency.
A win for Zinedine Zidane's men would put them back into the title race, but defeat would give Barca a 14 point advantage, which even at this stage of the season would surely be too much for Real Madrid to claw back. They would have to turn their attention to overtaking second placed Atletico, who could be eight points ahead of them by kick off.
There has been a controversy surrounding the game, not least about the kick off time, which is scheduled for prime-time in the lucrative Asian market, but at a bad time for Spanish fans, many of whom will be travelling home for Xmas or doing their last minute shopping.
Sources from Barcelona have said that they will not form a guard of honour for Madrid, despite the success last week in Abu Dhabi.
Barca have long term injuries Rafinha and Ousmane Dembele, while Gerard Deulofeu and Paco Alcacer are also out with muscle problems, but Jordi Alba eased fears he would miss out when he returned to training with the rest of the squad on Thursday.
Meanwhile Cristiano Ronaldo is a minor worry for Madrid as he trained alone for the second day, but there is little doubt he will continue his partnership with Karim Benzema.
Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo all return after suspension and the big question mark for Zidane is whether or not Gareth Bale is fit to start and who to leave out if he is.
Meanwhile Barca's starting 11 is likely to see Mark Ter Stegen in goal, Alba, Gerard Pique, Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Roberto in defence with a four man midfield consisting of Paulinho, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic, while Luis Suarez and Leo Messi will lead the line as the Liga Santander looks to end 2017 on a high note.