When Real Madrid splashed a whopping £86 million to capture Gareth Bale, only the novice would doubt that El Classico was clearly on the minds of their directors.
Yet their record signing would have to work miracles in training to be on Carlo Ancelotti’s starting list for the trip to the Nou Camp on Saturday, judging by the performance of Angel Di Maria against Juventus Wednesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Bale, who was anonymous in his 25-minute cameo after replacing the fumbling Karim Benzema, could still be accommodated to start against Barcelona if the Madrid manager decides to play him in a central role. He thrived in the position when Andre Villas-Boas experimented him there at Tottenham but there are still concerns over his fitness level.
The pressure has continued to mount on the Welshman but he is enjoying the backing of in-form Cristiano Ronaldo who believes their new signing will succeed with the Los Merengues.
“People put pressure on him, for how much he costs, which I do not think is good for him. If you want to help him, leave him alone, put pressure on other players. I am sure he will do very well for the team,” Ronaldo said before netting a brace to help his side to victory over their Italian counterparts.
But Brazilian forward, Neymar, who also joined Barcelona for £49 million in the summer after snubbing Real Madrid, is battle-ready for the encounter he described as ‘the most important game’.
Neymar told his club’s website: “It’s the match every player wants to play in. It’s the game where each player wants to play his best football. This will be my first Clasico and I hope to have a great debut, preferably with a victory.”
While the La Liga champions are three points ahead of third-placed Madrid on the table, they have struggled lately to impose themselves in Clasico matches, a contrast to their dominance in similar battles under Pep Guardiola.
The Blaugrana have only managed one win in the last six games between the two teams, with Madrid winning three, including a 3-1 triumph on their last visit to the Nou Camp, in the Copa Del Rey in February.
Barcelona have won 22 out of 53 matches against Madrid who have only managed 15 wins. Tata Martino is happy to have key man Lionel Messi available for the game after returning from injury and securing a point for the club with his equaliser at Milan on Tuesday.
Messi has scored 18 times in 25 appearances against Real Madrid and his manager is confident that the world’s best player is ready for the weekend clash. “He got the equaliser for us. He played with speed, intensity, looking for one-on-ones. With Cesc [Fabregas] on the pitch, he played on the wing and did it well. I believe there is now no doubt about his physical condition. He is over his injury.”
Martino will have to decide whether to field Messi wide or retain him up front as a false nine, a position from which he has tormented Madrid in virtually all his games against them, with scintillating goals and eye-catching assists. His decision will mean either of Alexis Sanchez who started at Milan or Fabregas is left out of the starting list.