SATURDAY’S El Clásico could prove decisive in where the La Liga title ends up at the end of the season.
Barcelona has an 11 point advantage over their fierce rivals Real Madrid, and Blaugrana boss Ernesto Valverde will know full well that a victory could put an end to Los Blancos title hopes before the year is out.
Real Madrid is fresh from their World Club Cup success in Abu Dhabi and could be welcomed with a guard of honour from their rivals if they are to have their way.
However, Barcelona moved quickly to deny that they will perform a 'pasillo’ as is customary for their rivals because they weren't part of the tournament in question.
Zinedine Zidane is under pressure after a slow start in the league, and a second-placed group finish in the Champions League which has set up a huge round of 16 encounter against PSG.
Even more worrying for the Madrid boss is that star man Cristiano Ronaldo has missed the first two group training sessions of the week with a calf complaint.
As for Barcelona, they have yet to taste defeat in the league so far this season and will be looking for a repeat of their dramatic 3-2 win over Real when they last met at the Santiago Bernabéu in La Liga.
In terms of injuries Valverde will be without long-term absentees Ousmane Dembélé and Samuel Umtiti, and to date has no fresh injury concerns heading into the match.
Real Madrid has not kept a clean sheet against Barca in the league since October 2006 and will need a captain’s performance from Sergio Ramos is Madrid are to pick up their first home Clasico win since October 2014.
Ramos has called the match on Saturday a must-win for his side, and the central defender will have to step up if Real Madrid is to deny Messi and company.
Summer signing Paulinho could have a decisive impact in the tie from the heart of midfield.
The Brazilian grabbed a brace in the 4-0 win over Deportivo over the weekend and could have a say on Saturday evening at the Bernabeu. Paulinho has scored six times this season, making him the highest scoring midfielder in the squad.
Many people doubted the former Guangzhou Evergrande player following his move in the summer, and a goal on Saturday would be the perfect tonic for the player’s detractors.