What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Real Madrid vs Barcelona
When: Sunday 23rd March, 2014, at 20:00 UK Time
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

Difficult But Confident

The highlight of the 29th La Liga matchday will undoubtedly be the second Clasico of the season between Real Madrid and perennial rivals Barcelona. The Blaugrana won all the spoils the last time the two teams met at the Camp Nou in a 2-1 victory, but things have changed since then and it is Real Madrid who are now four points ahead of their direct rivals. Confident and playing some of their best football in a while, they have a golden opportunity to end Barcelona’s hopes of retaining the league title and going on to make it a two-horse race with Atletico Madrid should they win on Sunday.

A wonderful run since the start of the new year saw Los Blancos top La Liga, three points ahead of Atletico Madrid going into this weekend’s games, with their last loss in the league coinciding with their defeat to Barcelona in the corresponding fixture earlier this season. Since then, Los Merengues have won all of their game except three – all occurring on the road – and will be hoping to extend this record against Barcelona.

Speaking after the Champions League win against Schalke, Carlo Ancelotti praised Real Madrid’s upcoming opponents, while declaring that his team are ready for their Clasico battle.

“We are in good form and really looking forward to the match. We know it is difficult against a great team. Since the match [the last Clasico] I think that this team have improved a lot. We have to play our best football because to beat Barcelona you have to play at 100%”, declared the former AC Milan boss. 

Win Or Bust

Four points behind Real Madrid, Gerardo Martino and his men realise that they need to win this one in order to keep their chances of retaining the league crown alive. A poor record since the start of 2014 has cost them dearly, but if there is any side that are capable of inflicting damage on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, it is them. The following 90 minutes will likely determine the outcome of their league season.

Recent Clasico history does not favour Los Cules, as they have won just a single time in the past six meetings that pitted the two sides together in all competitions. The corresponding fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu last season also ended in defeat for them as they succumbed 2-1 to the Whites almost a year ago. 

Realising that their adversaries are on cloud nine at the moment, midfielder Andres Iniesta urged his team-mates to put on a “perfect” display should they want to return to Catalonia with a satisfactory result. “The game itself and the chance to get back into the title race is motivation enough to ensure we are completely focused on the match. We'll have to put in an almost perfect game – that's what beating Madrid demands and we are capable of doing it.”

At home, Real Madrid will be difficult to contain as they have scored at least three goals in seven of their last eight games in the league.

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Recent form

Real Madrid:
Real Madrid 3-0 Levante (09/03; La Liga)
Malaga 0-1 Real Madrid (15/03; La Liga)
Real Madrid 3-1 Schalke 04 (18/03; Champions League)

Real Valladolid 1-0 Barcelona (08/03; La Liga)
Barcelona 2-1 Manchester City (12/03; Champions League)
Barcelona 7-0 Osasuna (16/03; La Liga)

Key absences

Real Madrid: Sami Khedira; Alvaro Arbeloa; Jese

Barcelona: Jose Manuel Pinto; Isaac Cuenca; Jonathan dos Santos; Carles Puyol (doubt)

Players to watch

Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo: If there is anybody capable of putting Barcelona to the sword on Sunday, it is Cristiano Ronaldo. The forward has 12 goals in 20 Clasicos since arriving in Spain, but has failed to make the score-sheet in the last two editions. In front of his own fans, he will want to be the man to end Barcelona’s hopes.

Barcelona – Victor Valdes: Barring any change of heart, Victor Valdes will be playing his last league Clasico on Sunday. The shot-stopper has been wonderful for the Blaugrana this league season, and his ability to block Real Madrid’s dangerous counter-attacks will be crucial.

Match Prediction

Real Madrid go into this one in better form than the current champions, who have struggled to make an impact on the road this season. Realising that they will deliver a knockout blow to Barcelona should they win, Ancelotti’s men will rely on the Santiago Bernabeu atmosphere to guide them through. Expect a narrow 2-1 win for the hosts.

Betting on Real Madrid v Barcelona? Make sure you read our betting preview first!

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