Neymar, Messi, Bale and Ronaldo Watch: Barca's Best Before the Bernabeu

Jason PettigroveContributor IMarch 16, 2014

Neymar, Messi, Bale and Ronaldo Watch: Barca's Best Before the Bernabeu

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    How did Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo warm up for El Clasico?
    How did Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo warm up for El Clasico?Getty Images/Getty Images

    A week before El Clasico and all eyes were on the big four—Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Neymar.

    Real Madrid travelled to La Rosaleda for a reunion with ex-Blancos boss Bernd Schuster, now at Malaga, whilst Barcelona were back in the bosom of home support for their fixture against Osasuna.

    Let's take a look at how the big guns fared and the sort of form they take into the biggest match of the season.

     

Lionel Messi

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    Lionel Messi
    Lionel MessiIsrael L. Murillo/Associated Press

    Lionel Messi now has 31 goals in his 33 games this season, despite missing two-and-a-half months through injury.

    The three scored against Osasuna saw him create history for Barcelona. At just 26, Messi is now the all-time record holder for the Catalans with 371 career goals.

    Hardly the bad patch that some would have you believe.

    Ominously for Real Madrid ahead of El Clasico, aside from the goals, we saw a vintage Messi performance.

    He was everywhere.

    Until his first goal on 18 minutes, he'd been fairly anonymous. The goal seemed to spark him into life, and as Barca went hunting in packs, Messi was darting after every ball.

    Space that had been at a premium was being found with ease as the Blaugrana toyed with Los Rojillos.

    Alexis Sanchez and Andres Iniesta's goals meant it was three goals from three shots on target in a first half that was dominated by the home side.

    A clear sign we were witnessing the Messi to whom we have become accustomed came in the 55th minute.

    He tracked back to pick up the ball deep in his own half and ran virtually the full length of the Camp Nou expanse before the chance went begging.

    It gave ample evidence of how hard the Argentinian is working for the team in the lead-up to the biggest match of the season.

    A wonderful pass and move to Pedro Rodriguez in the final minute was just about the best way for him and Barca to end the game.

    Los Blancos will have to be at their very best to beat the Blaugrana on this form.

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo
    Cristiano RonaldoDenis Doyle/Getty Images

    Cristiano Ronaldo was decisive in Real Madrid's defeat of MalagaHow many times have we said that before?!

    Despite a reasonably quiet game by his standards—only 48 touches of the ball, per WhoScored)—Ronaldo still looked dangerous each time he was given licence to run at the home defence.

    He'd already had one shot straight at Willy Caballero before the winning strike on 22 minutes.

    As Isco opened up the channel down the left side, Ronaldo stepped inside and was too quick for three Malaga defenders as he fired the shot off into the bottom corner.

    The Portuguese forward could've doubled the lead twice within the next two minutes, but he only succeeded in taking teammate Karim Benzema out of proceedings as both challenged for the same ball. The latter injured his thigh in the process.

    Ronaldo's incisive runs were sporadic and lacked an end product at times, but there was little he did wrong in the game.

    The best chance of the second half fell to him on 76 minutes, and better contact between the ball and his head when he was clear on the 6-yard line would've seen Real out of sight, with a quarter of an hour still left to play.

    A major reason why Los Blancos are now 30 games unbeaten, Ronaldo heads into El Clasico doing what he does best: scoring goals.

Neymar

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    Neymar
    NeymarDavid Ramos/Getty Images

    Neymar suffered the ignominy of not getting a single minute on the pitch this weekend.

    In fairness, his personal form in the lead-up to the Osasuna fixture has been poor and he can have no complaints at being given a spot on the bench.

    It could even prove to be a masterstroke by Tata Martino.

    Without a Champions League fixture to worry them during the course of this week, Barcelona have a full week to prepare for the trip to the Bernabeu.

    Neymar has a full week to stew over being completely left out of a stunning team performance. A full week to show Martino that he deserves a place in the starting line-up for El Clasico.

Gareth Bale

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    Gareth Bale
    Gareth BaleGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Gareth Bale is really beginning to find his feet in this Real Madrid side.

    Comfortable in any position across the front three, the Welshman's greatest advantage is that no one is talking about his signing on fee any longer.

    The first refereeing decision to go against Real during the Malaga game was after Bale's genuine claim for a penalty was turned down.

    Despite the official being in close attendance, the decision wasn't given, but replays would show Los Blancos had been denied a clear spot-kick.

    If there was a single standout moment from the first half, it was Bale's first-time waist-height volleyed pass straight into the path of Ronaldo, who was unlucky not to finish. The control and execution was exquisite.

    Bale worked tirelessly throughout, and his direct dribbling was penetrative and regular with eight in all throughout the 90 minutes, according to WhoScored.

    A threat on the break and lively when in possession, Bale was an easy pick for WhoScored's man of the match.

    If he starts on the right of a front three in El Clasico, then he must be shepherded down the channel by Jordi Alba.

    If he is allowed to cut inside, then on the evidence of this form we can expect his wand of a left foot to cause fireworks.