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Madrid's Ramos puts vamos into Barca showdown
Real Madrid are obliged to beat Barcelona on Saturday if they are to maintain any hope of retaining their La Liga title, according to Real captain Sergio Ramos. Real, the European champions, picked up a fifth trophy of the year at the Club World Cup last weekend.
But Zinedine Zidane’s men trail Barcelona by 11 points. "It will be a massive match," said Ramos. "It is the biggest game in the world. We are obliged to win more than ever for the situation we are in to try to keep ourselves in the fight for La Liga."
Matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid are dubbed ‘El Clasico’ because of the political and footballing rivalry between the two clubs. Once ago, the matches were played late on Sunday night. But for the first time, the game will kick-off at lunchtime as La Liga seeks more attention from Asian viewers.
And the worldwide audience could be treated to the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale together for the first time this season.
Real's front three have not played a single minute of action together, largely due to a series of injury problems for Bale.
However, the Welshman featured at the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi where he came off the bench to score the winner in the semi-final against Al Jazira.
Zidane, who has steered Madrid to eight trophies since taking over in January 2016, refused to echo his skipper's fears.
Madrid were the last side to beat Barca with a 5-1 aggregate thrashing in the Spanish Super Cup in August.
But, since then, the Catalans have flourished under new coach Ernesto Valverde. They are unbeaten in 24 games in all competitions. To recover from Neymar's 222 million euro departure to Paris Saint-Germain, Barca have become ever more reliant on the brilliance of Lionel Messi and the Argentine has responded with 18 goals this season.
"It will be important for us to win this game for what it means," said Messi as he picked up his award for being the top scorer in La Liga last season.
"A game against Madrid is special. It is at their place and we would take a significant advantage over them if we win."
The tension on the field could be accompanied by an edgy atmosphere for Barca in the wake of this week's regional elections in Catalonia.
Three parties favouring independence for the region from Spain retained an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament on Thursday.
However, Valverde played down such concerns. Barcelona visited Madrid to face Atletico Madrid in October without problems amid heightened political tension following violent clashes in a banned independence referendum called by separatists.
"The atmosphere will be good, I have no doubt about that," said Valverde. "We went to play at Atletico Madrid close to 1 October when there was a lot of talk about the reception we would get and I think as a football man it is one of the best atmospheres I have seen. There was a good feeling between the teams, the fans and I expect it will be same when we play Real."