Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (C) celebrates after scoring a goal against Malaga during their Spanish First Division soccer match at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga, southern Spain March 15, 2014. (Photo : REUTERS/Jon Nazca (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER))
The biggest soccer event will take place this weekend when Real Madrid and Barcelona face off in arguably the most crucial game of the year for both sides. Barcelona is four points behind Madrid and would be seven behind if it lost; a draw would keep the team four points behind the lead and not help the side's hopes of retaining its crown. For Real Madrid, a win would not only take down its biggest rivals, but it would also get rid of its most difficult game remaining on the Spanish League schedule.
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Which team enters the match in better shape?
Los Cules are coming off a strong week that started with a classy 2-1 win over Manchester City in the Champions League round of 16 and ended with a 7-0 destruction of poor Osasuna. These two results would indicate that all is well at the Camp Nou, but it is far from that. The team recently announced that Coach Gerardo Martino has an out clause this summer. Despite Martino's insistence that he plans to remain with the club next season, the announcement seems a bit mysterious and ominous in its context.
Moreover, the team has struggled over the last few weeks. Barcelona has lost 13 of a possible 33 points in 2014 and recently lost 1-0 against league minnow Real Valladolid. The team has also conceded 10 goals in those 11 matches; not a particularly promising statistic for a team usually able to keep the ball out of its net.
The biggest concern, however, is the play of Neymar. After undergoing so much to land him last summer, the team has watched him flourish into a regular contributor and slowly disappear as the season has developed. He was benched for Barcelona's seven goal explosion, signaling that he has lost Martino's confidence on some level. Neymar has only scored one goal in eight games for Barcelona in 2014 and may be realizing that he does not fit into the team's system the way he wants to.
Madrid sits atop the league with 70 points. Los Blancos have not lost since Oct. 26 when they were defeated at the Camp Nou by Barcelona 2-1. Before anyone starts getting ideas about Barcelona taking down Madrid one must remember that Neymar was still in great form back then. Messi was not at his best, but Barcelona was playing extremely well under Martino. Another important factor to consider is that Madrid has two wins and one draw in the last three matches played at the Santiago Bernabeu; those games include on Spanish Sup Cup leg, a Copa del Rey match and Spanish League tilt. Overall Madrid has won 51 home games in the Clasico while Barcelona has only defeated Madrid 17 times in Spain's capital.
Since that game, Madrid has gone undefeated in 31 straight matches. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are undoubtedly the best offensive trio in the world right now; back when the two teams faced off in October, Benzema was struggling and Bale was playing one of his first matches for the team. Since then, the two have turned into continual offensive threats. The team has also gotten production from Jese Rodriguez who has proven that he can score big goals for his club. Finally, Carlo Ancelotti, who made an ill-advised decision to start Sergio Ramos in the midfield for that game, has finally figured out his best XI as well as his best midfield combo. Madrid looks like the better team heading into this matchup.