El Clasico 2014: Players to Watch in Anticipated La Liga Clash

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El Clasico 2014: Players to Watch in Anticipated La Liga Clash
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press


As Real Madrid prepare to take on Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu, both sides know that a victory can add serious weight to their title chances.

Carlo Ancelotti's men sit three points ahead of second-placed Atletico, while Gerardo Martino's side are third-placed with 66 points—four behind Real.

In a match that sees plenty of reason to strive for three points, individual players will be looking to showcase their skills.

Barcelona bagged all three points in the reverse fixture, after a 2-1 win at Camp Nou.

Let's take a look at the ones to watch as El Clasico kicks around once again.

 

When: Sunday, March 23, at 8 p.m. GMT/4 p.m. ET

Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

TV Info: Sky Sports

Live Stream: Sky Sports app

 

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Chasing his second La Liga title, Ronaldo knows he will have to continue hitting the goals to keep Madrid's charge alive.

The winger has scored 25 goals in 24 league matches, per WhoScored.com.

With seven assists, he has also provided the perfect foil for team-mates, like Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, to weigh in with their fair share.

But against Barcelona, the 29-year-old will have to make sure that his experience is vitalised just as much as his prowess in front of goal.

 

Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona

Jon Super/Associated Press

Fabregas has been integral for Barcelona's creativity this season, handing 12 assists for his team-mates.

He has also weighed in with eight league goals in 26 appearances, per WhoScored.

As tweeted by OptaJoe, the 26-year-old sits third in the assist rankings:

Much like his team-mates, the Spaniard saw his form drop with the club's run of two consecutive away defeats.

But, with the chance to close the gap on Real, it's up to Fabregas to get back to his set-up best.

 

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid

Paul White/Associated Press

There aren't enough superlatives to sum up Bale's first year in Spain.

The former Tottenham winger has scored 10 goals and created 11 in just 18 league matches, per WhoScored.

He also bagged two assists in his last three La Liga matches while creating six and scoring three in his last seven matches in all competitions, according to WhoScored.

Paul White/Associated Press

On a hot streak of form, Bale's mettle will be tested in his second El Clasico bout as he looks to put Dani Alves under pressure.

The pacey winger, who has linked superbly with Ronaldo this season, has the skill set to unpick Barcelona's defence.

On home turf, you'd fancy him to be the difference between the two sides.

 

Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

As always, Messi will be the man who will steal the Barcelona spotlight ahead of kick-off.

Despite the side's recent slump, Messi continued to hit the goals to keep the side in the title hunt.

Notching 10 goals in his last seven league matches, the Argentine has once again proved his value to Barcelona.

Bleacher Report writer Guillem Balague wrote of his belief that Messi is back to his best on his Sky Sports column:

Messi's talents are wasted in a team that doesn't give him the ball, that doesn't open up space, that doesn't run in behind the defenders, that doesn't pressure and steal the ball early.

Recently it's as if Messi has been switching off in games, frustrated by a team that wasn't working as it should, but when he feels at the hub of things - as he was at the weekend - he looks a different player. And with Real Madrid coming up, there couldn't be a better time for him to be back to his best.

Messi bagged a hat-trick and an assist in the side's last league match—a 7-0 battering of Osasuna.

However, with the side faltering away from Camp Nou recently, Messi will have to make sure that he leads the line with effect in Madrid.

The side know that victory over Real is imperative if they are to keep pace with the league leaders.

Martino's men will also cast a watchful eye on their final-day fixture against Atletico.

A win at the Bernabeu could prove the springboard that Messi and Co. need to retain the title.

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