Pitchside Europe

Clasico fever hits town again

Pitchside Europe

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

It is testament to the status of Barcelona and Real Madrid that even the English are making a special effort for this weekend's latest episode of the Clasico series.

In one of Europe's more myopic football nations, only the more die-hard football fans (not to be confused with die-hard club fans) usually bother with foreign football, but anyone with the slightest interest in the beautiful game gets excited about arguably the biggest club rivalry in the world.

La Liga does get the most coverage of the offshore leagues, but the circus comes to every town when Real and Barca are involved.

The 7pm kick-off time is perfect to kick off a night out (or in): bars and pubs all over the UK are hosting special Clasico nights, some even laying on Spanish nibbles and discounted Iberian lagers, while those with the space hold mini house parties.

The world's best players, an age-old rivalry, all manner of domestic and European titles... The stakes are always high, and no less so this Saturday.

Domestically Real are four points clear of hosts Barca, the former stuttering slightly but the Catalans in imperious domestic form after chopping down what had been a 10-point lead.
There is also the prospect of a Clasico Champions League final in May, although the odds of that have lengthened somewhat after both sides lost their away semi-final legs.

As has become the custom for Real, assistant boss Aitor Karanka spoke at Friday's press conference with Jose Mourinho maintaining his silence.

"Tomorrow we will have two great teams and I hope that everything passes normally," he said, referencing the controversies and histrionics that have dogged Clasicos in recent years.

"The last three times we've played at Camp Nou we have scored goals and played on a level-footing with Barca. Every match is important from now until in the end of the season but, obviously, there are three points at stake between rivals for the title.

"We have to be focused, determined and give everything — which we do for every match."

For Barca, midfield general Xavi thinks this Clasico may as well be decided by the toss of a coin.

"La Liga depends a lot on the result of this match," he said. "We hope that Barca will win and that we move one point behind the leaders.

"We have a lot of hopes of clawing it back — remember, we were 10 points behind at one stage. But Real have the ability to play different styles against us, and we have to adapt ours too.

"If we win this, the title race is back on; if Real do, they've all but won it. Either way, this match is a heads-or-tails affair."

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Clasico head-to-head

Live minute-by-minute commentaries:

Saturday April 21

Chievo v Udinese 5pm

Napoli v Novara 7.45pm

Barcelona v Real Madrid 8pm

Sunday April 22

Fiorentina v Internazionale 11.30am

Milan v Bologna 2pm

Juventus v Roma 7.45pm

Valencia v Real Betis 8.30pm

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