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Real Madrid host Barcelona in El Clasico as LaLiga title race hots up

FOOTBALL By Reuters | April 10th 2021
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema and Barcelona's Lionel Messi. [Photo: Courtesy]

Barcelona travel to Real Madrid today in what is set to be one of the most pivotal El Clasico meetings in recent memory, with both sides fast closing in on stuttering Atletico Madrid at the top of the LaLiga table.

The Catalans, unbeaten in 19 league games, are just one point off the pace while third-placed Real trail by three points after closing the gap from 10 in February.

Zinedine Zidane’s side are also flying high after their comprehensive 3-1 victory over Liverpool in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.

Madrid forward Karim Benzema has warned that they need to keep Lionel Messi, who has scored 12 goals in his last 10 league appearances, out of the game if they are to get the three points. “It’ll be a tough game against a side who like to dominate the ball,” Benzema said.

“They’ve got a great goalkeeper and of course Messi, the player who does everything for Barcelona. We need to be wary of him because he’s so, so dangerous.

“Just like in the first meeting this season we’ll go out on the pitch looking for the win, it’s a final for us.”

The hosts will be without injured captain Sergio Ramos and centre back partner Raphael Varane, who is isolating following a positive Covid-19 test.

However, Eden Hazard and Dani Carvajal could both be available for Zidane after returning to full training.

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Barca, meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of defender Gerard Pique, who has a knee issue.

Barcelona's Argentine forward Lionel Messi challenges Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casemiro (R) during the Spanish League football match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 24, 2020. [LLUIS GENE / AFP]

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid striker Luis Suarez has been ruled out of action for around three weeks with a muscle injury, handing another blow to the club’s fast fading title bid.

Suarez, Atletico’s top scorer this season with 19 league goals, pulled up injured in Wednesday’s training session and his club later released a medical report confirming he had hurt a muscle in his left leg.

The statement did not say how long the Uruguayan would be out for although Spanish media reports suggested he would be out for three weeks.

The 34-year-old was already suspended for his side’s trip to Real Betis on Sunday and is now set to also miss the upcoming league trips to Eibar, Huesca and Athletic Bilbao.

His injury should open up an opportunity for French striker Moussa Dembele, who joined the club in January from Olympique Lyonnais but has only played 42 minutes in the league and is yet to start.

Atletico enjoyed a 10-point lead at the top of the standings by the end of January but the gap was reduced to a single point on Monday after Barcelona beat Real Valladolid 1-0, taking advantage of Diego Simeone’s side’s 1-0 loss at Sevilla.

Atletico will hope to hit back against Real Betis tomorrow.

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