As Lionel Messi’s participation in tonight’s El Clasico remains uncertain, Barca skipper Andres Iniesta warns rivals Real Madrid that his side are tough even if injury keeps the star forward out
Barcelona: Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta has reminded Real Madrid that his team will be formidable even if star player Lionel Messi is unable to play in Saturday's La Liga showdown at Santiago Bernabeu.
Argentinian forward Messi has been out of action since September 26 with a knee injury but the club’s all-time top scorer returned to training this week and is expected to travel with the squad for this season’s first 'El Clasico'
"Let's hope he can play, whether that’s from the start or not, because he’s an essential player for us," Iniesta told his club's official website. "We nevertheless have a competitive enough squad to compete with or without him in the team."
Messi scored 58 goals in all competitions last season for Barcelona in their Primera Division, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble-winning campaign.
During his absence this season, Luis Suarez and Neymar have accounted for 20 of Barca’s 23 goals. Neymar is La Liga’s leading scorer with 11 goals, two more than Suarez.
"Our form makes us feel confident," Iniesta said. "In our most recent games we have been consistent in every sense. But we know that this won’t be an easy match, it never is. Both teams have players that can change any game."
Barca, coached by Luis Enrique, are three points clear of Real. They have kept a clean sheet in their last four games in all competitions and scored eight goals in the process.
Real have the best attacking line in La Liga with 26 goals and they boast the second best defensive line behind Atletico Madrid with just seven goals conceded in 11 games.
"We need to dominate possession and not just create goalscoring chances but take them too... But in order to win at the Bernabeu, you have to be at your best," Iniesta said.
Barca last beat Real in the league at the Bernabeu Stadium in the 2013-14 campaign with a 4-3 triumph, courtesy of a Messi hat-trick.
In total, the sides have faced each other 170 times in the Primera Division, with Real winning 71 and losing 67.
For the second time this season, Real coach Rafa Benitez will have all of his players available for selection, and that includes goalkeeper Keylor Navas. A muscle injury forced the Costa Rica international to miss the team’s 2-3 defeat at Sevilla before the international break, Real’s first loss under Benitez. Navas has kept six clean sheets in nine league games for Los Blancos.
Ronaldo to lead attack
Cristiano Ronaldo, who is Real’s leading scorer with eight goals, has failed to find the back of the net in his team’s last two games and he will lead their attack alongside Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Benzema has recovered from a muscular problem while Bale, who missed four games with a calf problem before returning to action at Sevilla, is looking forward to the match.
Number of goals Lionel Messi has scored in El Clasicos. His 21 goals have come in 30 appearances since his first match against Real Madrid in November 2005
Number of goals Messi has scored at Santiago Bernabeu
Number of matches the forward has missed out of 15 at Santiago Bernabeu in the last decade. Barca have won seven of these encounters while drawing three and losing five
Number of Barcelona’s goals Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored between them ever since Messi’s knee injury on September 26. Only three goals have come from other Barca players in this period
Barcelona’s last 17 La Liga goals have all been scored by either Neymar or Suarez
Number of goals Neymar has scored this season to become La Liga’s leading scorer with 11 goals. Suarez, meanwhile, has scored nine goals
Madrid: Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez has been forced to deny reports of a player rebellion ahead of today’s crunch clash with Barcelona. Despite being La Liga’s top scorers, Madrid have been labelled defensive since Benitez took charge and reports in the Spanish press claimed Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo held a meeting with their coach to complain about the playing style.However, speaking in a press conference yesterday, the Madrid boss rubbished the reports. "I have a lot of respect for your profession as journalists, but this story about a meeting is completely false," he said. — Goal.com
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