Manager’s team selection issues have dominated proceedings before this colossal fixture on Saturday.
It seems that both managers will once again be able to call upon returning injured big name players, but as of yet we are still not sure who Rafa Benitez and Luis Enrique are going to select.
Benitez will be able and will call upon Keylor Navas and Sergio Ramos for sure. Will he play James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema, who both appear to be fully fit now? With regards to Right back Dani Carvajal, we haven't heard an awful lot as he doesn't appear to fit the criteria as a "star name" for regular bulletins on his fitness issues. However, I think his return is pivotal to Real Madrid's chances in this game.
I think we all agree that Neymar is in great form for Barcelona and therefore his direct opponent in this match is going to be important, it is a vital selection.
€32m summer signing Danilo from Porto has not convinced as of yet and, to be brutally honest, in my opinion he doesn't appear to be up to the standard of playing for Real Madrid. I had my doubts about him before the Sevilla defeat and the outstanding performance of Sevilla's left winger Konoplyanka in that game confirmed to me that Real Madrid could have spent their money more wisely. If they wanted a new expensive right back they should have asked Villarreal how much Mario Gaspar would have cost them. Less, I'm sure than €32m.
Will Benitez select Carvajal or Danilo? We shall see.
Likewise, Benitez is coming under ever increasing pressure to select James Rodriguez at the expense of the impressive specialist defensive midfielder Casemiro. If he does, it means Toni Kroos reverting back to holding midfield and Rodriguez lining up alongside Luca Modric.
Benitez is having to protect himself from his "defensive" reputation and it will be fascinating to see if he conforms and buckles to public and media pressure and selects James Rodriguez, or will he stick to his beliefs for what is best for the team to beat Barcelona?
Let me leave no doubt though, that Rodriguez, Kroos and Modric are all better footballers than the reliable Casemiro but he is the best and most natural holding defensive midfielder that Real Madrid have and again that position is going to be critical in this game.
I have stated that it is too early to judge Rafa Benitez but now that injured players are returning his team selections are going to be scrutinised more than ever. Good luck Rafa!
For Barcelona, and you knew I would be addressing this issue at some stage, what will be Lionel Messi's involvement? His recovery has been shrouded in mystery as there have been no updates from the club since his injury against Las Palmas on September the 26th. No photos of him in the gym, jogging, swimming etc, which is the norm nowadays. There has been nothing on social media either.
That was until the back end of last week when there were reports that Messi had re-joined the squad for full training. However, the rumours were not confirmed as Barca uploaded photos onto their website of said training session and Messi wasn't in any of the 28 images.
The secret couldn't be kept any longer though and it has now been confirmed that he is back training fully with no restrictions and his knee injury looks to have been cured. It will have been eight inactive weeks to the day for Messi if he returns on Saturday and what will his general match fitness be? Will Enrique start him or leave him on the bench to be used later in the game? The latter would be my choice.
It is a role he fulfilled against Atletico earlier in the season, when he appeared on the hour mark and scored the winner some 15 minutes later, this was after returning from International duty and his wife then giving birth. I also expect Rakitic to return into midfield alongside Busquets and Sergi Roberto, with Iniesta playing slightly further forward with Neymar and Suarez.
Much has been made of the recent goalscoring exploits of those two. The extraordinary stat of them being the only players to score a league goal in Messi's absence is remarkable. All 17 goals have been scored by Neymar & Suarez, nobody else has registered a single strike. It has led to conclusions that they are now flourishing due to Messi's absence, however, they didn't do too badly last season as a trio scoring a combined total of 122 goals!
So it is as difficult as always to predict the outcome of this game. The fact we are not sure what the line-ups are going to be as well as the standards of fitness from returning players, makes this an even tougher one to call.
Barca are in better form and are more settled, but Real Madrid are at home and you can never underestimate any team with a front three of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo.
Therefore with all this uncertainty I'm going for a thrilling 2-2 draw at 12.00.