Pitchside

European Match of the Weekend: Real Madrid v Barcelona

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The 168th La Liga Clasico between in-form Real Madrid and an erratic Barcelona could see the table-toppers take a big step towards winning the title and sound the death knell for the champions bid for a fifth triumph in six years.

Leaders Real host their arch rivals at the Bernabeu on Sunday in one of football's most emotive occasions, featuring a clash of the world's two richest clubs, the two best players - Real's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca's Lionel Messi - and watched by hundreds of millions around the world.

Real, on 70 points with 10 games left, are in much the better shape going into the match and have put together an unbeaten run of 31 matches in all competitions since they lost 2-1 at Barca in La Liga at the end of October.

Barca, four points behind Real in third and a point adrift of surprise packages Atletico Madrid in second, slipped to surprise recent defeats at Real Valladolid and Real Sociedad and badly need a win to reignite their campaign.

The stage is set for another grand spectacle, when some of the game's most expensive and best-paid talent, including the likes of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema for Real and Neymar and Alexis Sanchez for Barca, will seek to make their mark.

Like Ronaldo, who has netted 12 times against Barca since joining Real in 2009, Messi has been on scintillating form in recent weeks and the Argentina forward can overtake Real great and compatriot Alfredo Di Stefano as the leading marksman in Clasicos if he can score a 19th goal on Sunday.

"Now is the crunch time in the season, when things are won and lost so we need to keep our performances up and keep winning games," Bale said after Real secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday.

"We will treat the game against Barcelona as just another match," added the Wales winger, who played just over an hour of his first Clasico at the Nou Camp in October without making much of an impact.

"We will prepare the right way and hopefully get the right result. We know they are close rivals but we want to win the three points on offer."

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti had a patchy start to his first season but has since moulded his hugely talented squad into a unit that has a genuine chance of becoming only the second Spanish club after Barca to secure a Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey treble.

Sunday's game is also a warm-up for the cup final between Real and Barca in Valencia on April 16 and they could be drawn to play each other in the last eight of Europe's elite club competition early next month.

Barca also have a new coach in Gerardo Martino, who comes from Messi's home city of Rosario, but a lack of consistency in recent months has seen them surrender the La Liga lead.

The club has been in institutional turmoil over Neymar's transfer from Santos in the close season, with president Sandro Rosell stepping down amid allegations of misappropriation of funds and tax evasion.

Neymar has been in poor form since the turn of the year, while Real's marquee signing Bale, who joined from Tottenham Hotspur for a record fee of £86m, has been increasingly impressive.

However, Barca can still repeat the treble they won under Pep Guardiola in 2009 and forward Pedro said they were full of confidence after dispatching Manchester City in the Champions League round of 16.

"The team is focused, concentrated and united," the Spain international said. "In the important games the team has performed very well and at a very high level. We are coming into the game on great form and practically everything is up for grabs there.

"We want to put on a good performance and get the three points so we can stay alive in all three competitions. Maybe they are a bit more the favourites because they are playing at home and are the leaders but we know that in these games there is never a clear favourite as anything can happen."

Real have had the upper hand in recent home games against Barca, winning once in the league and once in the Spanish Super Cup and drawing in the Copa del Rey. They have won 70 of 167 La Liga meetings overall with the Catalan club going back to 1929, losing 65 and drawing 32.

OPTA HEAD-TO-HEAD STATS

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ALL TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD

OPTA MATCH FACTS

- Real Madrid have only won two of their last 11 league meetings with Barcelona (D2 L7), and both came by the odd goal.

- The Whites have the opportunity to win two successive Clasicos at the Bernabeu for the first time since 2008.

- Since the 2008/09 campaign, Barcelona have won three more Clasicos (five) than Real Madrid have (two) at the Bernabeu.

- Real Madrid and Barcelona have both found the net in each of the last 14 Clasicos in all competitions (Real Madrid 24, Barcelona 25).

- The last time either side failed to net was back in April 2011, when Real Madrid failed to score in a Champions League home game (0-2).

- Barcelona have scored in each of their last 11 trips to the Santiago Bernabeu in all competitions; the last time they failed to net was back in October 2006 (2-0 in La Liga).

- Barcelona have only lost one of seven games in all competitions against sides managed by Carlo Ancelotti (W3 D3): 1-0 in October 2004.

- Neymar both scored and assisted on his Clasico debut earlier in the campaign.

- Jese Rodriguez scored his first La Liga goal in the reverse fixture with Barcelona, with Ronaldo picking up his first ever Clasico assist for that strike.

- Only against Espanyol (five) has Xavi scored more league goals than he has against Real (four).

- Leo Messi is the top scorer in league Clasicos amongst current players (11).

- Indeed if he scores in this game, Messi will overtake Alfredo Di Stefano as the top scorer in all-time Clasicos in all competitions (currently tied on 18).

- Real Madrid have only lost one of four Clasicos with Diego Lopez in the starting eleven (W2 D1) though this was in the Nou Camp earlier this term.

EUROPEAN MATCHES COVERED LIVE THIS WEEKEND ON SITE

Saturday

Mainz v Bayern Munich - 14:30

Sunday

Real Betis v Atletico Madrid - 16:00

Real Madrid v Barcelona - 20:00

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