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EUROPE > Barça, Real lock horns in Clasico title showdown

MADRID - Agence France-Presse

Barcelona and Real Madrid, probably the two best football teams on the planet right now, will meet on April 21 in what might be the biggest game of the season in European football. Barcelona will try to win at Camp Nou to cut the gap to one point, while La Liga leader Real Madrid is likely to be happy with getting unbeaten to maintain its lead

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Eyes will be on Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi (pictured) and Real Madrid ace Cristiano Ronaldo again as the two fierce rivals meet at Camp Nou this weekend. The two stars are on stellar form this season, both scoring La Liga-record 41 goals. REUTERS photo

Eyes will be on Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi (pictured) and Real Madrid ace Cristiano Ronaldo again as the two fierce rivals meet at Camp Nou this weekend. The two stars are on stellar form this season, both scoring La Liga-record 41 goals. REUTERS photo

Bitter rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid meet on April 21 in the sixth ‘Clasico’ of the season to fight for three crucial points that will shape the destiny of this season’s La Liga title. 

With five games remaining, Real Madrid goes to the Nou Camp four points clear of its great rivals knowing that a win or draw will almost certainly break Barça’s dominance and hand Jose Mourinho’s side its first title in four seasons.

Real was 10 points clear of the Catalans just over a month ago but has drawn three of the last seven games while Barça has won its last 11 league matches. 

Real’s run, that has opened the door for Barcelona, began with a 1-1 draw at home to Malaga followed by further draws against Villarreal and Valencia. The goals of Lionel Messi have been crucial in Barça’s recent run -- the Argentine has scored an incredible 18 goals in those 11 wins. 

Cristiano Ronaldo has also netted 41 league goals for Madrid making it a head-to-head shoot out between the two best players in the world for the ‘Pichichi’ prize awarded to the league’s top scorer. 

Crucial goals 

Both have earned countless man of the match awards, the tricky recent away wins for both sides at Atletico Madrid standing out for great match-winning goals from the two stars.

Messi has 63 in all competitions to Ronaldo’s 53, but if the Portuguese star wins his first La Liga title, against the reigning Spanish, European and World Club Champions, it would surely rank with the best feats in his career to date.

‘El Clasico’ matches have courted a fair amount of controversy in recent seasons with the appearance of Mourinho on the Madrid bench and his attempts to add a psychological dimension to the clash.

The rivalry boiled over at the beginning of the season when Mourinho poked Barca coach Pep Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye during a game.

Mourinho has only beaten Barça once in 10 attempts since he took over in the summer of 2010. That victory came in last season’s Spanish cup final with a Ronaldo winner in extra-time, but a league title over the Catalans would certainly justify Mourinho’s antics in the eyes of ‘Madridistas’. 

To add more spice, the clash comes the weekend before both sides attempt to turn around first-leg away defeats in the Champions League semi-finals in a bid to meet each other in May’s final in Munich.

Guardiola plays down the pressure on his players

Real Madrid lost 2-1 to a last-minute goal against Bayern Munich on Tuesday while Barca failed to score in 24 attempts at goal in Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at Chelsea.

In a bid to reduce the pressure on his players Guardiola has continued to reiterate in recent weeks that winning the league is an impossible task.

On April 18, he was philosophical about his team’s defeat and the battles to come. 

“I don’t know what will happen on Saturday and next Tuesday (the Champions League return leg) but I feel that we have triumphed already,” he said cryptically, perhaps referring to Barca’s success in recent years. 
Mourinho could rest some of his regulars ahead of the Bayern return clash. Full-back Fabio Coentrao was criticized for his performance in Germany while Mesut Özil was replaced in the second-half. To play Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain in attack alongside Ronaldo has also produced great debate all season long.

Guardiola has left Gerard Pique on the bench for the last two games while debate in Barcelona surrounds the form of Cesc Fabregas who has failed to score since early February and Cristian Tello or Pedro Rodriguez could be favored.

April/21/2012

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