Preview: Injuries could play a big part in this match for the hosts
A number of injury concerns will have Tata Martino somewhat worried heading into Saturday's match against Granada. With eight players in doubt, at least four of them will definitely miss this match.
Lionel Messi is obviously the big name on that injury list, which is also made up of Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and most recently Victor Valdes. Along with those four top players, Martino could be without Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique, Xavi and Cristian Tello, who are all in doubt, but have yet to be ruled out for this weekend's match.
Having so many injuries could be problematic, but fortunately Barcelona has good enough talent on their bench who can fill in.
Lately, a certain Portuguese attacker's name comes to everyone's lips—with his rampant displays for club and country. Cristiano Ronaldo, that is. His perfectly executed hat-trick against the Blågult in Sweden on November 19, which followed his match winner in the first leg of this World Cup Qualifying Playoff tie, has got people touting Cristiano Ronaldo again for the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or to be awarded in January.
But what about Lionel Messi, the reigning holder of this prize? Last season wasn’t his best by his lofty standards, with some as far as calling it a disappointment. Indeed, his individual achievements in 2011-2012 were outrageous and therefore hard to equal for any player, including Messi himself.
Preview: World Cup qualification achieved; now it's time to experiment
Ecuador will take on Alejandro Sabella's squad in a friendly match that will likely get a lot of attention in on the east coast in the USA. With both countries having already guaranteed their place in next year's World Cup, both managers will have a chance to test out some new options.
Argentina will first take on Ecuador, and they will then take on Bosnia-Herzegovina. That will give the Albiceleste a chance to see some of their options, but they will be without Lionel Messi for both.
It’s often said that criticism is the best motivator. In the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, it seems to have spurred him on to new heights that many had not even thought possible, despite his reputation as arguably one of the world’s finest footballers playing today.
The Portuguese attacker has scored 24 goals so far in all competitions and will certainly break the Champions League group stage record of eight goals set by trio Ruud van Nistelrooy, Filippo Ingazhi, and Hernan Crespo. As a result, he’s passed perennial rival Lionel Messi’s previously established haul of 13 European strikes in a calendar year.
Given that he’s scored in every single Champions League game so far this season, it’s probably certain that he’ll add more to that tally before the group stages conclude in December.
Preview: A battle of first against last
With the exception of Osasuna, no other team in La Liga has been able to steal points from the Blaugrana. 34 points from a possible 36 has Tata Martino's side top of the Spanish League, with a visit to Betis not looking like it will slow them down.
Getting the full three points will be vital for Barcelona. Although they have started in brilliant fashion, Atletico Madrid is right on their heals, with just one point separating the two clubs.
In contrast, Betis is last in La Liga, with only two victories from 12 matches. Both those victories came at home against Valencia and Villareal, but they have four losses and one draw from their last five in La Liga. Turning things around against Barcelona looks like it could be difficult, but their mid-week victory over Vitoria Guimaraes in the Europa League will have given them some added confidence.
Preview: Barcelona can guarantee the knockout stage with a victory
Some would argue that AC Milan's current lot of players is not all that impressive. Others would even go as far as to say that this is one of, if not the worst Milan squad in years. Whether you agree with that or not, the truth is that they are three points from the relegation zone in Serie A.
On the European front, Allegri's squad has not lost from their three matches, and they find themselves second, two points behind Barcelona.
A draw at the Nou Camp would likely be welcomed from Allegri, who is under serious pressure.
Preview: Distancing themselves is a main concern
Barcelona has started the current campaign in blistering form, having claimed 31 points from a possible 33. Their only letdown came in a scoreless draw away to Osasuna, but other than that match, Gerardo Martino's men have been brilliant.
With 10 victories already, the hosts will be going for their eleventh, while they also look to jump four points ahead of second placed Atletico Madrid.
Making matters worst for the visitors, they will be up against Barcelona's perfect record at home this season (5-0-0), and their 20 goals scored and only five conceded. But in Espanyol's defense, the Blaugrana have only managed one cleansheet at home, which was their opening day match against Levante, which ended in a 7-0 thumping.
The Players – Messi, Ribery, Ronaldo favourites
Bayern Munich’s treble success last season, as well as the team’s current great performances and results, have duly been rewarded. The German giants dominate the 23-man shortlist with as many as six players – four of which are homegrown talents. Arjen Robben (Netherlands) and Franck Ribery (France) complete Bayern’s bunch.
Barcelona, who were thrown out of the UEFA Champions League by Bayern on a 7-0 aggregate result, are the second most represented team in the freshly released FIFA Ballon d’Or awards list. 2013 Confederations Cup winner Neymar joins club icons Messi, Iniesta and Xavi.
It is interesting to know that the Catalans, who have been tagged as favourites ahead of Saturday’s clash, have not beaten Real Madrid in 429 days. Indeed, under Jose Mourinho, the gap between these two Spanish rivals greatly reduced. The last five results between the pair are as follows:
With another El Clasico upon us, we will take a look at some facts that stick out between Ronaldo and Messi. The two stars have made a significant impact on the El Clasico over the years, and the upcoming match will likely be no different.
From scoring goals to getting their teammates involved, their performances will always influence the final result.
1) Consistently Playing
It is not often that you see either player not finish any match, especially when it comes to El Clasico. For Lionel Messi, he has only not played the full 90 minutes against Real Madrid on one occasion. That match came in his first meeting with the Merengues during the 05/06 campaign, when he was subbed off in the 70th minute. The Blaugrana won that match 0-3.
Barca’s winless streak in El Clasico
As the calendar confirms it, Saturday will mark 429 days since the Blaugrana last defeated their eternal rivals, Los Blancos. One must roll back the time to August 23 last year to re-live Barca’s latest victory. It occurred in the first leg of the 2012 Supercopa de Espana at the Camp Nou with the hosts winning 3-2.
The game was marked with a terrible blunder by goalkeeper Victor Valdes which allowed Argentine winger Angel Di Maria to reduce Real Madrid’s deficit. That goal proved vital as the Spanish giants, then managed by Jose Mourinho, beat the Catalans 4-4 on aggregate thanks to the away goals rule to lift the Spanish Super Cup.
Will 26 October 2013 mark the end of Barcelona’s five-match winless streak against Real Madrid?
Diego Lopez vs Victor Valdes
While the forwards might get all the attention and the plaudits coming their way, the goalkeepers will have an equally important job on Saturday night. Both the men will be protecting their goal against some of the most accomplished players in the world of football and will definitely have to put up a special performance to help their team win.
Barcelona have conceded the lowest number of goals in La Liga and much of this is down to the brilliance of Victor Valdes who is set to bid farewell to the club at the end of the season.
Barcelona are set to reacquaint themselves with the fabled San Siro as they take on AC Milan on Tuesday. This is the seventh time these two sides have met in the past two years. The last time the Catalan giants were in Lombardy, it was a case of them running back to Catalonia with their tails between their legs, thanks to goals by Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari.
At that time, many thought that the defeat was the beginning of the end for Barcelona. The same team that was then considered to be fading away has now become a genuine Champions League contender while their victors are now struggling a lot domestically while being exploited by inferior opposition in Europe.
Preview: Barcelona wants to set the tone for the upcoming El Classico
Gerardo Martino's side is starting to get somewhat healthier, and it could not have come at a better time. As the Catalans prepare to take on Osasuna at El Sadar, they will likely be thinking of their upcoming matches against AC Milan and Real Madrid.
El Classico always generates plenty of hype and media attention, but if Barcelona is able to defeat Osasuna, they will head into the match against Madrid with the chance of surpassing their record of a nine match win streak.
What a better way to set a record, than against your rival, and on your home turf?
Preview: Martino's undefeated Barcelona look to continue great streak
When Gerardo Martino was appointed manager of Barcelona, there were a number of question marks floating around the Nou Camp. Was he good enough? Without any European Football experience, would he struggle with the pressure?
The truth is that Tata Martino not only has silenced the critics, but he is also on the way to potentially breaking a record currently held by Real Madrid.
Having won nine successive matches, Real Madrid currently holds the record. Interestingly enough, if Barcelona was to break that record, they would have to do it against Real Madrid in three weeks time. But before they worry about that, they will need to focus on their match against Valladolid, who has only one victory in seven matches.
Preview: Neymar needs to step up in Messi's absence
It was not too long ago that Barcelona left Parkhead with a defeat, which led to tears pouring down the face of Rod Stewart. On Tuesday night, the Scottish Champions will be looking to steal points against the Catalans once again.
Going up against Barcelona without Messi in the squad is a relief for Neil Lennon's side, but the Celtic manager does not want to focus on that too much.
"Messi's absence is obviously good news for us," Lennon told UEFA's official website. "For me, he's the best player in the world. There's sadness too because it's always fantastic to see the greatest here in Glasgow."
Preview: Barcelona aiming to make it five out of five
The Blaugrana have got off to a great start in the new campaign, winning all four of their La Liga matches. With 14 goals scored and only four conceded, Tata Martino's squad is first in the league, even on points with Atletico Madrid.
After their strong showing mid-week against Ajax in their first match of the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona will now turn their attention to domestic football.
Madrid will be their next stop, where they will take on Rayo Vallecano at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas.
The Catalans stumbled to a largely disappointing moment in the tournament last season. In the semi-finals, they were hit by a humiliating 7-0 aggregate loss to eventual winners Bayern Munich - the biggest defeat the Blaugrana had ever suffered in their entire history.
But the new European season has arrived and you can count on Gerardo Martino's men to give it their best shot.
On September 17, the name on everyone's lips was 'Cristiano Ronaldo'. The Argentine’s rival grabbed a hat-trick of his own as Los Blancos romped to a 6-1 victory over Galatasaray in Turkey.
That was the Portuguese’s second so far in the Champions League which left him behind the likes of Mario Gomez, Filippo Inzaghi, and Messi.
Preview: Neymar and Tata Martino are out for the perfect debut
After last season's beat down at the hand of Bayern Munich, Barcelona will want to get their 2013/14 UEFA Champions League campaign off to a good start. Up steps an Ajax side that was placed in one of the toughest groups last season, and the draw for this season was not all that nice to them either.
In Group H, Barcelona and Ajax will have to lock horns with AC Milan and Celtic, which could make for a very entertaining group.
The departure of your star player can have a huge effect on the flow of a team and their narration on the pitch. Spurs seem to have found a peach of a replacement, with a player who can find gaps in a fragmented defence and produce moments of brilliance.
Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen made his first appearance in a Tottenham…