It doesn’t get bigger than Real Madrid-Barcelona as El Clasico impacts the Spanish title race

Real Madrid v Barcelona, La Liga, April 10, 2010

Real Madrid 2.38; Draw 3.43; Barcelona 2.62

The second installment of El Clasico this season is one of the most eagerly awaited clashes in the history of this fabled rivalry. It promises not only to be a battle between the two best players in the world but is likely to also go a long way to deciding who will the Spanish title this season. (Both Real Madrid and Barcelona are 1.90 to win La Liga.)

These two sides have been so far ahead of the rest in La Liga that comparisons have been made with the dominance of Celtic and Rangers in the Scottish Premier League. Real Madrid come into this match after winning 12 successive league matches and Barcelona, currently the best team in the world, have lost just once in the Spanish top flight all season.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are tied on 77 points at the top of the Primera Division, a full 21 points clear of third placed Valencia. Los Blancos currently lead the Catalan giants on goal difference but after this game if the two teams are tied, the head-to-head record will be used to separate them.

With Barcelona having won the first game at the Nou Camp in November, thanks to a solitary Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2.50 to score) strike, a draw for Pep Guardiola’s side would leave them in the driving seat to regain the title although there are seven games left of the Spanish season.

Much of the build-up to the game has been dominated by Lionel Messi (5.50 to score & Braca win). With the whole world still salivating at Messi’s incredible performance against Arsenal, Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini has to work out how to stop the Argentinean genius. To underline his threat, the front cover of Madrid based newspaper Marca on Wednesday morning had a picture of Lionel Messi celebrating one of his four goals against Arsenal with the headline: “And how do we stop this guy?”

Pellegrini, who was at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night, is thought to be preparing an “anti-Messi plan” which involves Alvaro Arbeloa sticking tight to “The Flea” and quickly receiving help from his team mates. However, when questioned on how they stop Messi, veteran Real Madrid midfielder Guti (6.50 to score) pointed out earlier this week that “To worry about one player would be ridiculous.”

Guti also said that “Cristiano Ronaldo (5.00 to score first) is as good, if not better than Messi” and one would imagine that the Portuguese winker has been brooding for much of the week as the football world universally hail Messi as the best player in the world. Ronaldo has had another brilliant season and his 25 goals in 27 appearances is proof of that, its just that in recent weeks Messi has risen to even greater heights.

In truth though, although this game is hyped by the battle between Ronaldo and Messi, both teams are packed with some outrageously good players. Xavi (17.00 to score first) and Iniesta are the heart-beat of the Barcelona side and with the latter returning to fitness and expected to start, the battle in the middle of the park with Xabi Alonso (21.00 to score first) and Esteban Granero will be key. Pep Guardiola should have Gerard Pique and Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from injury and will again be forced to use Maxwell at left back with Eric Abidal out with a thigh problem.

Real Madrid meanwhile look set to be without Royston Drenthe and Galactico Kaka who hasn’t played since the Champions League exit to Lyon. Gonzalo Higuain (2.25 to score) has been in incredible form of late, scoring eight goals in his last five matches and Barcelona will have to stop the free-scoring Argentinean striker.

Barcelona have had the upper hand in this match-up recently, winning both games last season including the emphatic 6-2 victory last May when Messi scored just the two goals. Such was their spellbinding performance in midweek against Arsenal, that a similar score line would not come as such a surprise.

But, Real Madrid have been eyeing this game for some time as the day they can overtake Barcelona and justify their mammoth spending spree last summer. With Cristiano Ronaldo desperate to impress and make up for his critical miss at 0-0 at Barcelona in November, Lionel Messi could be left in the shade to the delight of a rocking Bernabeu.

101gg predicts: Real Madrid 3 – Barcelona 2 (20.45)

Real Madrid 2.38; Draw 3.43; Barcelona 2.62