Key head-to-heads in Spain La Liga 'Clasico', Real Madrid V Barcelona

Reuters, Saturday 25 Oct 2014

Messi, Ronaldo, Benzema and Neymar
Messi, Ronaldo, Benzema and Neymar

Key head-to-head battles in Saturday's "Clasico" between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Bernabeu stadium (1600 GMT):

Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi

Ronaldo, 29, and Messi, 27, are two of the most consistently lethal goalscorers in soccer history and a match rarely passes without them getting on the scoresheet.

Portugal captain Ronaldo, who has succeeded Messi as World Player of the Year after four consecutive awards for the Argentina skipper, has netted an incredible 15 goals for Real in seven La Liga outings this season.

Messi has seven in eight games and is one short of the Spanish top-flight scoring record of 251 goals set by former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra six decades ago.

Both players have the freedom to roam and are often most dangerous driving down the centre, although their styles are very different.

Messi plays with schoolboy enthusiasm, making darting runs and exchanging quick passes with team mates. Ronaldo is more of a showman, making muscular charges down the pitch, and his powerful, swerving freekicks are a threat from any range.

Karim Benzema v Luis Suarez

Benzema is enjoying one of his best seasons since joining Real in 2009, while Suarez is poised to make his official Barca debut after a four-month ban for biting an opponent at the World Cup finals in Brazil.

As well as scoring goals, the pair are known for their work rate off the ball, tracking back to challenge for possession and making intelligent runs that open up space for team mates.

France forward Benzema, 26, is an established force in Spain and has the firm backing of Real coach Carlo Ancelotti, while Uruguay's Suarez, 27, who joined Barca from Liverpool in the close season, still has everything to prove.

Saturday's clash at the Bernabeu will be the ideal opportunity for him to start winning over the Barca fans if coach Luis Enrique decides to include him.

James Rodriguez v Neymar

Neymar has started his second season at Barca with a bang after a fine performance for Brazil at the World Cup that was interrupted by a back injury.

Considered more of an out-and-out goal scorer than Rodriguez, the 22-year-old's on-field partnership with Messi is flourishing and he has spoken of his confidence that this season could his best yet at club level.

Rodriguez, 23, has yet to consistently reproduce the form that helped him net a tournament-best six goals for Colombia at the World Cup but flashes of brilliance suggest he is not far off his best.

Playing just behind the forwards, he is expected to make the assists that will release the likes of Ronaldo and Benzema into space and a powerful left foot means he can also find the net from distance.

Toni Kroos v Ivan Rakitic

The two midfielders, gifted passers who operate in slightly different central roles, will be expected to dictate play for their respective teams and their success or failure could go a long way to deciding the game's outcome.

Both are set to make their debuts in a 'Clasico' after Germany's Kroos joined Real from Bayern Munich and Rakitic of Croatia moved to Barca from Sevilla.

Kroos, 24, was a key performer for Germany in their triumph at the 2014 World Cup but has the unenviable task at Real of filling the position vacated by former Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, now at Bayern.

While Kroos mainly excels at long-range shooting, Rakitic, 26, can also score from distance but has the ability to time his runs into the box to finish off one of Barca's trademark passing moves and is generally more effective than the German at playing the killer pass to create a scoring chance.

Iker Casillas v Claudio Bravo

Real captain Casillas has endured a torrid time over the past couple of years and was widely criticised when Spain crashed out of the 2014 World Cup at the group stage before being whistled at the Bernabeu by disgruntled home fans at the start of this season.

The 33-year-old appears to have settled down in recent weeks and Ancelotti has restored him as undisputed number one following the departure of Diego Lopez to AC Milan.

Chile keeper Bravo, who Barca recruited from Real Sociedad to replace Victor Valdes, has made a record-breaking start to his stint at the Nou Camp and is yet to concede a goal in eight La Liga outings.

Similar in stature and style to Casillas, the 31-year-old is perhaps more accomplished at dealing with crosses than his Real counterpart and his ball-playing skills mean he has settled comfortably into a Barca team that likes to begin their attacks from the back.

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