Real Madrid's five Clásico Camp Nou challenges
Real Madrid play Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Saturday, six points ahead of their eternal rivals. As well as a win, Zidane and his side have other goals to attain.
This Saturday sees Real Madrid face their biggest challenge in what remains of what has been a very happy 2016 for Zinedine Zidane's side. A win over Barcelona in El Clásico (Camp Nou, Saturday 3 December, 16:15 CET) would see them extend their lead at the top of LaLiga over their eternal rivals to nine points. And while Real Madrid would no doubt take a win on its own, they have other challenges and goals, both as a team and individually, they are desperate to attain. Here are the main five:
Real Madrid want a decisive victory
Luis Enrique said it after the point they "miraculously" picked up in Anoeta having been outplayed and outclassed by Real Sociedad: the Clásico is going to be decisive. And in Real Madrid's terms it will be that and more if they can go to the Camp Nou and inflict serious damage on a Barcelona side that's currently struggling. A win would be good, a thumping win could knock the stuffing out of Barcelona for the season. Either way, three points for Zidane's side will put them nine ahead of Barcelona at the top of the table. A draw, on the other hand, while a decent result would psychologically do little damage.
A clean sheet for Keylor Navas
Real Madrid have had two weaknesses this season. First up, a lack of intensity that afflicts the team at times, and which Zidane has complained about, and secondly, a defensive weakness that, although it hasn't hurt the side overly in terms of results, has worried the Real Madrid fans. Zidane's side have only managed a clean sheet in four of their 20 games this season.
After Real Madrid, Barcelona are the side who have scored the most goals in LaLiga, and although they are more prolific away from home this season so far, just saying the dream forward line: Messi, Suárez and Neymar gives you an idea of how important it will be for Zidane's defenders to keep them as far away from Navas' goal as possible, and when they do get through, because they will, for the Costa Rican keeper to have his reflexes as finally honed as ever. And with Luis Enrique's change to the Barcelona style his team now looks dangerous on the counter, making things even tougher for Madrid's back line. The mission then is no easy one: Barcelona have scored in every Clásico since the Copa final of 2010/11.
Ronaldo needs to win the 'other' Clásico
As the media like to remind everyone, in every single Barça-Madrid or Madrid - Barça, there is another Clásico, one which pits Messi's performance against that of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even more so than in other games, their every movement will be scrutinised: every run, pass, driblle, shot, gesture... And with some reason, they are two footballers who can change, with one moment of genius, the course of a match. Ronaldo has scored 16 goals against Barcelona, and he knows this this is the biggest stage in world football on Saturday, he's in the limelight, exactly where he wants to be... so his motivation to outperform Messi and walk away victorious couldn't be greater.
Ronaldo comes into the match as the Liga's top scorer, the Pichichi as it's known in Spain, having scored one more goal than Messi (10 and 9 respectively). The inexplicable aspersions of "not being a big game player" will once again be cast by many: Ronaldo will be going out to prove them wrong and take another step towards the Ballon d'Or and the other individual trophies he has his covetous gaze upon.
Zidane can move ahead of Ancelotti
The rather haphazard win over Sporting Gijon (2-1), as well as sending Madrid into the Clásico with a solid cushion at the top of the table, saw Zidane extend his unbeaten run to 31 games, the same as Ancelotti recorded at the Spanish giants. Win or a draw and Zidane will go ahead of the Italian coach, and add to his already impressive statistics that belie the critics who continue to maintain he's been favoured by an indecent amount of fortune so far and that he's still too inexperienced for the job. And if Zidane does make it 32 games unbeaten in a row, he'll be just two behind Leo Beenhakker, the all time record holder at Real Madrid.
This season, while Barcelona have been beset by doubts (they have just 27 points, their worst start with Messi in the side since 2007-2008), Real Madrid have gone 20 games without defeat (the European SuperCup, 13 games in the Liga, five in the Champions and two in the Copa del Rey), something that's not happened since Capello was in charge, in 1996-1997.
A statistic from another era
Madrid, surprising as it may seem, haven't won two consecutive games in the Camp Nou for over 50 years. After last year's comeback, being a man down but with a heroic Cristiano Ronaldo driving the team on to an unexpected victory, a win on Saturday will see Real Madrid achieve a feat from another age.