Not since the Brazilian Ronaldo going down in the 1998 World Cup final due to a seizure attack the night before the final has so much talk revolved around a player’s availability. This time, it is Lionel Messi’s fitness that has thronged so much of the Real Madrid vs Barcelona match. The Argentine maverick has been out for a month and rumours are rife with him making a comeback in Santiago Bernabeau. Also Read - 'I Am Back' - Gareth Bale Returns to Tottenham Hotspur on Season-Long Loan Deal From Real Madrid

There has been very little to choose from, form-wise between these two teams although Real suffered a shock defeat against Sevilla before the international break. Rafael Benitez has little fitness worries coming into the contest despite Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema just about passing their fitness in the nick of time. Luis Enrique on the other hand, has a host of fitness worries. Also Read - Lionel Messi Selected in Argentina's FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifier Squad

El Clasico makes or breaks the careers of managers and Benitez’s case is no different.  The local press has already started piling on the pressure on the former Liverpool and Inter Milan gaffer. So much that the headline of the local newspaper, Marca read, “Benitez cannot afford to lose”, quite unfairly so, showing scant regard to the manager’s top notch record in big games.  Ronaldinho’s Barcelona was humbled by Liverpool in 2007 and even top guns — Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger  — have found it daunting to break down a Benitez side. Also Read - Lionel Messi to Miss El Classico vs Real Madrid in LaLiga Due to FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers

However, Barcelona are a well drilled juggernaut and are past masters of getting results in the league. Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 15 goals against the Blaugurana will undoubtedly be the key. Many of these games have turned out a straight shoot out between Messi and Ronaldo. There is a good chance that the lovers of the game will be deprived of that opportunity this time but even without Messi, Barca have coped stupendously.

During the latter half of the run-in to Barcelona’s treble-winning campaign, it was Luis Suarez, in his debut season, who pulled the strings. Since Messi resigned to the treatment table, it has been Neymar who has spearheaded his side’s frontline. The Brazilian has been in magnificent touch and has already filed his nomination for the goal of the season.

Sergi Roberto has seamlessly acted as the foil to the tour de force of Neymar and Suarez up front. Midfield though will play the most pivotal role and energy will be the key as Real’s Casemiro faces off against his opposite number, Ivan Rakitic.

Rakitic has stepped into the colossal shoes of Xavi and relishes these big games. Casemiro’s tireless running is a valuable asset, lending steel to the Madrid’s silk-footed side. With skipper Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquests patrolling space in midfield, experience is on Barca’s side. James is expected to complete the midfield trio alongside Ronaldo and Gareth Bale but a score draw is on the cards, given how much a loss would go on to affect both these sides.

Predicted XIs

Real Madrid (4-3-1-2) Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos (c), Rafael Varane, Marcelo; Casemiro, Luca Modric, Toni Kroos; James Rodrigues; Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo

Barcelona (4-3-3) Claudio Bravo; Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba;  Sergio Busquests, Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic; Sergi Roberto, Neymar, Luis Suarez