'Clasico': Barcelona play for Cruyff, Real Madrid for revenge

AP , Friday 1 Apr 2016

People place flowers offering their respects to the late Dutch soccer Johan Cruyff at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. Dutch soccer great Johan Cruyff, who revolutionized the game as the personification of "Total Football," has died. He was 68. (AP)

Barcelona looks to honor its idol. Real Madrid gets a shot at revenge.

The second ''clasico'' of the season arrives with the Spanish rivals in different states of mind.

Barcelona is focusing on paying tribute to the late Johan Cruyff, the former star who died last week after battling cancer.

Real Madrid is hoping to avenge the humiliating home loss to the rival earlier this season, a defeat that ignited the club's latest crisis.

''The good thing about football is that it constantly gives you opportunities to get even,'' Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. ''Now we have a chance to do well, away from home, against a great team such as Barcelona.''

Saturday's game also gives Madrid its last real chance of rejoining the title race at the Spanish league. Anything but a victory will mean the end of the line for Zinedine Zidane's team in the La Liga.

A win at the Camp Nou, in addition to denting Barcelona's confidence entering a decisive stretch, would cut the rival's lead to seven points. Atletico Madrid, which hosts Real Betis earlier Saturday, is nine points behind Barcelona.

''Anything is possible in football,'' Madrid striker Gareth Bale said. ''We'll fight until the end. Winning La Liga is still possible and if we win on Saturday we'll be seven points behind and you never know what might happen.''

A victory by Barcelona would leave the Catalan club significantly closer to its second consecutive league title, as Madrid is the last big challenge on its schedule. But many thoughts on Saturday will be on honoring Cruyff, the former Dutch great credited with steering the club on its path to glory.

The club is preparing a mosaic of 90,000 cards displaying the words ''Thanks, Johan,'' in Catalan. The words will also appear on Barcelona's jerseys.

A minute of silence and a video tribute are also planned for Saturday.

Here are other things to watch in the Spanish league this weekend:

Dominant Barca

Barcelona has won four of the last five league games against Real Madrid, including the last two at the Camp Nou and this season's 4-0 rout at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid hasn't won at the rival's venue since a 3-1 result in the semifinals of the 2013 Copa del Rey, when Jose Mourinho was still in charge. The last time Madrid won at Barcelona in the Spanish league was in the 2011-12 season, when it won the La Liga for the last time.

Real Madrid is on a hot streak, having won five straight games, while Barcelona is coming off a 2-2 draw at Villarreal.

Matching Nottingham

With a win or a draw on Saturday, Barcelona would match Nottingham Forest's 1978 streak of 40 consecutive games without a loss.

Luis Enrique's team would be three games shy of the mark set by Juventus in 2012. The Italian team went 43 games without a loss in all competitions.

Barcelona is the record-holder for unbeaten games among Spanish clubs.

Feeling at home

Cristiano Ronaldo has felt quite comfortable when playing at the Camp Nou, having scored nine goals in the last eight times he played at the venue.

Since the 2011-12 season, Ronaldo scored at least one goal in seven of the eight games at the rival's stadium. He only failed to find the net in the league clasico in the 2013-14 season.

The Portuguese striker has scored 11 goals in Madrid's last nine games overall. He is the Spanish league's leading scorer with 28 goals, two more than Barcelona forward Luis Suarez.

Zidane vs Enrique

Saturday will mark the first duel between Zinedine Zidane and Luis Enrique as coaches. The former players faced each other many times on the field, with the most famous encounter coming in 2003, when the two almost got into a fight after a foul by Zidane.

Enrique was one of the first Barcelona players who charged toward Zidane to protest, and the former Madrid star shoved him away with a hand to his face.

Keep pushing

With some help from the city rival in the clasico, Atletico Madrid can move within six points of Barcelona if it beats Real Betis at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.

Atletico is looking to rebound from a 2-1 loss to Sporting Gijon in the league, a result that unhinged the team's nine-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.

''We face each match as if it were a final,'' Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez said.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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