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Monday 11 December 2017

Iniesta: We go to Madrid with mentality to win this 'Clasico'

Clashes between Real Madrid and Barcelona are rarely short on drama and tomorrow's La Liga 'Clasico' may have more than its usual share with Luis Suarez poised to return from a biting ban and Barca team mate Lionel Messi on the brink of equalling the top-flight scoring record.

Watched by millions around the world, meetings between the European heavyweights have, over the years, showcased the spectacular talents of the game's best, while occasionally being marred by ugly controversy.

The matches are also played out against the background of national politics and the latest edition has an added edge given the ongoing battle between the central government in Madrid and the Catalan administration in Barcelona over the region's independence drive.

The meeting at the Bernabeu, the 169th La Liga clash between the world's richest clubs by income, is unlikely to produce incidents of similar magnitude and Barca will be hoping Suarez and Messi make headlines for the right reasons.

Suarez's four-month ban for biting an opponent at the World Cup expires today and the Uruguay forward could make his official Barca debut in a formidable three-pronged attack with Messi and Neymar.

Messi, meanwhile, is one goal short of the Liga scoring record of 251, set six decades ago by Telmo Zarra, and the 27-year-old Argentina captain is the leading scorer in 'Clasicos' with 21 goals in all competitions, two more than Alfredo Di Stefano.

Real are likely to be without Wales winger and record signing Gareth Bale, who has a buttock muscle strain and missed the Liverpool game, while Spain centre back Sergio Ramos has been sidelined by a calf injury.

"We're in good form and in good shape, focused and playing really well," Real coach Carlo Ancelotti said after Wednesday's 3-0 Champions League success at Liverpool.

"We go into the Clasico in great shape and Barcelona also go into the match in ideal condition."

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has acknowledged there is much more than just three points at stake.

Luis Enrique's unbeaten side head to the Spanish capital top of the Primera Division and knowing a win would open up a seven-point cushion over their arch rivals, nine games into the season.

Iniesta accepts victory would provide a big psychological boost.

"It's not just any other game - it never is. If you win, it makes you feel great," the Spain international said yesterday.

"The Clasico is always a battle in footballing terms. You have to be the best in everything to win.

"We have to go there with the mentality to win - not thinking about what will happen afterwards, no matter what happens. That would be a mistake."

"It will be a closely fought game. Madrid have a lot of potential and it's never easy to go there and win."

Luis Suarez is available to make his long-awaited debut, having so far been unavailable following his summer transfer from Liverpool due to his four-month ban for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.

Iniesta is looking forward to linking up with the Uruguay striker.

"It has been good since he arrived but is in an awkward situation because there is nothing worse for a player than not playing," the 2010 World Cup winner said. "But now he can finally return. He's happy and so are we."

Barca go into the game on the back of a 3-1 Champions League victory over Ajax at the Nou Camp on Tuesday, while Real Madrid were 3-0 winners at Liverpool 24 hours later.

Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo expressed his bemusement at the Clasico being scheduled for Saturday, giving his side only two full days' rest to Barca's three, but Iniesta was paying little attention.

"Cristiano speaks of the calendar, but it is what it is," he said. "We have also played games with fewer days of rest - you have to adapt."

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