The biggest domestic club game in the football world will be played on Saturday night when Real Madrid entertain FC Barcelona in a La Liga contest at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium here in Madrid.
The build-up so far has focused on security concerns more than sporting questions in the wake of the Paris attacks, but with just over 24 hours until kick off, both coaches will now be looking to decide on their starting 11, reports Xinhua.
Spanish authorities have declared the game a high-risk event and announced they will double the police presence at the Bernabeu.
Nearly 1,500 private security agents will be working during the game, and at least 1,000 national police officers.
Security zones will be implemented outside the stadium, keeping those without tickets or credentials away from the 81,000-capacity venue.
Players and spectators will also hold a minute of silence for victims of the deadly Paris attacks.
Both Real Madrid’s Rafael Benitez and Barcelona’s Luis Enrique have question marks hanging over key players ahead of the game. Benitez has forward Karim Benzema and defender Sergio Ramos available after recent injury scares. But with Frenchman Benzema only returning to full training on Thursday and the captain Ramos’ shoulder still looking problematical, the coach has to decide whether or not he can risk putting them in his starting 11.
Meanwhile in Barcelona there is one man who is the focus of all of the attention: Lionel Messi. The Argentinean superstar was back working with his teammates early this week after two months out with a knee injury and there is no way he will be left back home for such a vital game.
However, with Luis Suarez and Neymar both performing exceptionally well without him, coach Enrique knows he does not immediately need to risk Messi from the start and the coach has always said his aim is to ensure the Argentinean is fit for the rest of the campaign and not just one game.
Croatian international Ivan Rakitic should also be fit for Barcelona after his recent muscle problem, but once again Enrique may prefer to start with him on the subs’ bench.
That gives the Barcelona coach the problem of whether Javier Mascherano should start in defense or in midfield alongside Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta to cover for Rakitic.
If he moves into midfield either Marc Bartra or Jeremy Mathieu will partner Gerard Pique, who can be assured of a hostile reception, in the Barcelona defense alongside Dani Alves and Jordi Alba.
Benitez has been accused of being over-defensive in his tactics, but with his side kicking off three points behind Barcelona and the leadership at stake, this is the chance to prove his doubters wrong and play with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco and James Rodriguez together.
If however, his defensive instincts get the better of him and he decides to play on the break and Real Madrid fail to win, his time in charge of the club could be measured in days and weeks, rather than months and years.
(With agencies input)