The world's biggest domestic match is back and it's a little different from recent confrontations. It's ten years since both managers shared the moment of making their El Clásico debuts, when Carlos Queiroz' Real Madrid defeated Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
This time it's another Carlos - Ancelotti - that will taste his first experience as Los Blancos boss against a Barcelona side guided by Gerardo 'Tata' Martino. Whether it's the start of an enthralling and intriguing, but ultimately tiring series of battles like Guardiola versus Mourinho, remains to be seen.
Gerard Piqué is battling against the clock to make the game after picking up a sprain to his left hamstring, so it's likely to be Carles Puyol partnering Javier Mascherano in the centre of defence. Puyol made his first start for seven months in Pamplona last weekend and was then rested for the Champions League. How Martino views his team tactically will be revealed should he choose to omit either Xavi or Alexis Sanchez in favour of Cesc Fàbregas or Pedro.
Although Ancelotti thinks Gareth Bale is ready to start the game, logic would suggest another appearance from the bench - though rationale disappears at Madrid where 'galactico' signings are concerned. The Italian deployed a 4-3-3 on Wednesday and there's every chance he will do so again, with Diego López replacing Iker Casillas between the posts.
It's successive draws for Barcelona; after they drew a blank against Osasuna, registering just three shots on target and had to come from behind in Milan. "I think in the end we lost a bit of perspective, we came to the San Siro and to think we were going to win 0-3 or 0-4..." summed up Piqué at the final whistle. Let's not forget though, they were on the verge of equalling Real Madrid's record of winning their first nine domestic games set in 1968.
Real Madrid are getting results, though not in a totally convincing manner. Their performance versus Málaga was probably their best of the season, although they never looked like dropping the three points against Juventus, they stuttered to a conclusion.
Unbeaten in their last five meetings with Barça, Los Blancos should head into the contest in a confident spirit. The best of those performances was the 3-1 win in Catalonia. However, much credit should be given to 'The Special One' for his tactical approach in those matches. Knowing when to press and when to sit deep will be key to whether Ancelotti can continue the good run of form against their bitterest rivals. "With the Clásico, you can’t look at recent results," remarked Sergio Ramos.
Messi v Ronaldo
Although both teams made marquee transfers this summer, there's still no doubting who the main men are at their respective sides. Lionel Messi netted the equaliser against Milan and he is 3.75 for the opening goal. In previous meetings Madrid have taken it in turns to tactical foul the Argentinean. He is 2.50 to be fouled six times or more.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in the week. He has an incredible seven goals in the Champions League already. It was his brace that gave Madrid the victory on their last visit, whilst he has scored two in five out of his last eight matches for the club, he is 9.00 for at least two goals. Given Barça's short-comings from set pieces it's a decent 9.00 for the Portuguese forward to finish with a header.
Outside of Messi and Ronaldo, the last two players to score first in this fixture were Karim Benzema and Fàbregas. After his glaring miss against Juve, Benzema will be under pressure to keep his critics quiet -he is 9.00 for the opener.
Neymar called the Clásico: "The most important game for any player." It's 6.75 for the Brazilan to start the scoring.
Only two of the last 17 encounters has seen one team not manage to register on the scoresheet, with both teams to score 1.48. Five of the last six matches produced three or four goals. That's 2.20 to happen again.
The two coaches are some distance away from seeing their tactical approaches coming to fruition. Defeat for Madrid could start a media frenzy as to whether Ancelotti is the right person to take the club forward. For Martino the inquest would likely be less severe. A share of the spoils at 3.90 seems the safest outcome.
Score Prediction: Barcelona 2 Real Madrid 2 (11.00)
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