[dropcap]d[/dropcap]judged as arguably the most illustrious derby in world football, El Clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid is seemingly the biggest game of the season every time these perennial rivals meet.
Carlo Ancelotti’s European champions took the spoils when the sides did battle at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu back in October, with the capital city hosts coming back from a goal down to win 3-1.
The victory gave Madridistas across the globe confidence that the Spanish title was their’s to lose this season, while Los Blancos have taken pride of place at the top of the La Liga table since.
Until last weekend.
Since the turn of the year, Madrid have not looked their usual menacing selves, with their fabled ‘BBC’ attacking triumvirate of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema misfiring to some degree.
Unconvincing performances have led to dropped points, with Barcelona reeling in Ancelotti’s men and leapfrogging them to the top of the standings following Madrid’s 1-0 defeat to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
Although Bale almost scored a David Beckham-esque attempt from the half-way line, the world’s most expensive player is seemingly struggling with the weight of recent expectation, with criticism in the Spanish media taking its toll.
Even Ronaldo, fresh from winning his second consecutive Ballon d’Or award in January, has looked a fragment of his former self and struggled to impose himself on games like he was doing six months ago.
Although progression through to the Champions League quarter-finals was guaranteed last night, a 4-3 home defeat to Schalke in the second leg was less than ideal.
Madrid are seemingly missing Sergio Ramos at the back, while relinquishing a 3-2 lead over the Bundesliga team early in the second half frustrated the home support and had Ancelotti admitting that the performance was simply not good enough.
The incredible goalscoring and assists of Lionel Messi since the turn of the year have played a major part in Luis Enrique’s side looking like the most dangerous team in Europe in 2015.
Add to this the fact that Luis Suárez is starting to get amongst the goals and that the team’s rearguard has looked more secure; the Catalan powerhouses will take some stopping in their search for a momentous treble this season.
With this in mind, the El Clásico clash at Camp Nou on Sunday, March 22 really will be the biggest game of the season, again, and has the potential to play a major bearing on just where the La Liga crown will end up in 2014-15.
A home win has the potential to open up the gap between the sides to four points, while a Madrid victory would see Ancelotti’s charges regain the ascendancy in the title race.
Both teams have reason for relative optimism.
Barcelona have been the form side in Europe of late, with a resurgent Messi catapulting them towards what could be an historic campaign.
Madrid could well welcome back key playmaker Luka Modric from injury, with the Croatian midfielder setting his sights on the clash.
Los Blancos have also had the best of the Clásico meetings in recent times, with the victory earlier in the campaign fresh in the memory. Madrid have also won three out of the last six Clásicos at Camp Nou in all competitions.
The stage is set for an almighty clash between arguably the world’s two biggest football teams, with the La Liga title’s 2014-15 destination being determined by the result.
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