Barcelona prepare to host arch-rivals Real Madrid in the season’s first El Clásico tomorrow night at Camp Nou.
The two clubs currently stand tied on points (35) with the Blaugrana now ahead based on goal difference. A victory for either side tomorrow could change all that, of course.
After a fickle start to the season that left some speculating on Zidane’s job, Los Blancos have been in good form lately. But the team haven’t defeated Barca in their last six meetings, a time spanning 853 days.
Here are some things to look for in one of the most-watched matches in world football:
1. Will Gareth Bale get the start?
“That thing belongs to the past. Now he is ready to play and he is a key player for matches like El Clasico,” said Zidane on Gareth Bale’s flag incident.
“Bale is with us and is one of us. He is an important player for us and has already shown this. Tomorrow he will be prepared like everyone else. I have no doubts about it,” added Zidane.
Does that mean Bale will get the start?
Not necessarily, but Eden Hazard, Lucas Vázquez, Marco Asensio, and James Rodríguez are all sidelined. And Bale is back fresh from injuries, having played 35 minutes against Valencia last Sunday. Without a goal in nearly four months, the Welshman will be itching to get on the scoresheet.
2. Get ready to see some new faces
Barcelona and Real Madrid conducted a load of business over the summer to prepare them for this epic matchup.
Just last season, Dutch sensation Frenkie de Jong and Ajax put a spell on Real Madrid to kick them out of the Champions League Round of 16. Barca fans will be expecting more de Jong magic tomorrow.
“I watched almost every Clasico, but the one that stands out to me the most is when Barça beat Real Madrid 5-0 at the Camp Nou,” de Jong told the club’s website. “There’s a bit more tension this game than last season because the gap in points between both teams was bigger last year.”
A match of this caliber will come as little surprise to Barca’s new winger, Antoine Griezmann. The former Atletico Madrid player is used to battling Real Madrid, having scored eight goals against Los Blancos.
With Marcelo still injured, new signing Ferland Mendy will see himself back in the starting lineup after serving a one-match suspension in the previous match. Marcelo has enjoyed a promising start in his debut season and will be looking to continue his excellent spell with another strong performance at Camp Nou.
18-year-old Brazilian Rodrygo has been a revelation at the Santiago Bernabeu so far this season. His six goals in all competitions — a hat-trick in the Champions League match against Galatasaray alone — will give him the confidence to lay one past Ter Stegen.
17-year-old La Masia graduate Ansu Fati could feature in his first El Clasico tomorrow. If so, the Guinea-Bissau born Spanish international will surpass Bojan Krkic as Barcelona’s youngest-ever player to appear in the most anticipated fixture in the footballing world.
3. Score predictions
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi share 12 La Liga goals apiece. Luis Suarez comes closest with nine strikes.
It is highly likely one of the three will get on the scoresheet tomorrow with an emphasis on the talisman himself. Messi has notched 26 goals across 41 El Clasico matches, including 14 assists and two hat tricks.
Given Barcelona’s home record this season (7-0 at home in La Liga), the emergence of an in-sync MSG (Messi, Suarez, Griezmann) and Sergio Ramos’s penchant for red cards, we predict the Catalan side will come out on top 3-2.
Either way, the game will be intense. El Clasico is “the kind of game you live for,” said Zidane.
Who do you think will win? Tell us on Twitter.
Watch El Clasico tomorrow on beIN SPORTS or fuboTV ( free 24-hour trial ) at 2 PM EST.