(Reuters) – Barcelona travel to Real Madrid tomorrow in what is supposed to be one of the most pivotal El Clasico meetings in recent memory, with both sides closing in quickly with Atletico Madrid suspended at the top of a table La Liga.
The Catalans, unbeaten in 19 league games, are just one point off the pace while the Real route are in third place three points after closing the gap of 10 in February.
Zinedine Zidane’s team are also flying high after their comprehensive 3-1 win over Liverpool in their first leg of the Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.
Madrid forward Karim Benzema has warned that they need to keep Lionel Messi, who has scored 12 goals in his last 10 league appearances, out of the game if they want the three points.
“It’s going to be a tough game against a side that likes to dominate the ball,” said Benzema.
“They have a great goalkeeper and of course Messi, the player who does everything for Barcelona. We need to be wary of it because it is so, so dangerous.
“Just like in the first meeting of this season we will be going out on the field looking for the win, it’s a final for us.”
The hosts will be without injured captain Sergio Ramos and referee partner Raphael Varane, who are isolating following a COVID-19 positive test.
However, Eden Hazard and Dani Carvajal could be available to Zidane upon return to full training. Barca, meanwhile, is sweating on the fitness of defender Gerard Pique, who has an issue to his knee.
Atletico travel to Real Betis after winning just three of their last 10 games in all competitions as they struggle to keep their rivals at bay.
Coach Diego Simeone will be without La Liga’s second leading scorer Luis Suarez, who has a calf problem, and suspended midfielder Marcos Llorente for the trip to Andalucia. Joao Felix and Yannick Carrasco are back after missing last weekend’s 1-0 loss to Sevilla due to injury.