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A clasico that matters

Ronaldo Rules
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Every so often a classic rivalry lives up to its name and provides fans with a masterful game. It is not always easy to know when that will happen, but in the case of tomorrow's game between Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, at the Santiago Bernabeu, we will see a super clasico--a match to remember.

The requirements for such a game to take place are simple-- who wins the contest must mean more than just bragging rights; the key players for each side must be healthy, playing at their peak form, and chosen to perform by their coaches; the coaches must stick to what is their team's strength and not try to upstage the encounter with a one-of strategy; and the officiating has to be up to the occasion.

If Real wins this game Barcelona will be seven points behind with ten games to play and the Madrid side will have the inside track to the La Liga trophy. If the Catalans win they will be only one point behind both Madrid sides assuming Atletico win. At that point the title is up for grabs with but a slip up separating the three at the top. In short, if Real wins the La Liga contest may well be over.

Barca's Tata Martino said about the match "We need a perfect match. It's our last chance to win the league." Ancelotti responded by saying "We will try to play attacking football. We have the same pressure as Barcelona."

As if that were not enough on its own, the two Spanish Giants will be playing for the Copa del Rey later this year and tomorrow's match will set the stage for that one. The winner will walk into the Copa match with a bit of a psychological edge. Furthermore, both teams are in the running for the Champions League and a potential run-in there looks exceedingly in the cards. Barca would love nothing more than to deny Real their decima.

Meanwhile there are these two players, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (the current Ballon d'Or holder) and Barcelona's Lionel Messi (the quadruple winner of the same), who are already vying for the 2014 edition of that prize in a year when all roads point to Brazil and the 2014 World Cup. Great players know when center stage is up for grabs, and both of these superstars know whatever they have done so far this season will be forgotten or downplayed by year's end if they do not perform on the big stages--and that begins tomorrow.

Then, of course, there is that third player, Neymar, who is almost back to full force and will probably start for Tata Martino's side. He would love to begin putting his imprint on the world stage and here he is about to compete for a Spanish league title and cup, a continental title, and a global title later this summer, all in a five month span.

Who will end up with the upper hand and what will be the carry over effect this summer?

Then we have the coaches and their contributions. What will Real coach, Carlo Ancelotti, serve up? Will he go with the free flowing offensive team that has taken him this far in all competitions or will he decide tomorrow's the time to tinker with what's been working? Will Martino play his strongest side with an abundance of midfielders to ensure possession, and just two true strikers? Will Neymar, or Alexis Sanchez, or Pedro, play alongside Messi? Is Karim Benzema's form going to hold true for another week or will he disappear again at the wrong time, and if so will the coaching staff (Zinadine Zidane) notice?

The officiating is always the wild card in these matches and we will have Alberto Undiano as our referee tomorrow. We will take the high road and say they will have an inspired evening and not be the deciding factors in the match. That said, let us make some educated guesses so as to predict an outcome.

To begin with the coaches will not fool around with line-up shenanigans, the players will be fit and in form and the stakes will be clear for all. That said, Real Ancelotti will bring us Diego Lopez, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Dani Carvajal, at midfield he will have Angel di Maria, Xavi Alonso and Luka Modric, and on offense Ronaldo, (an in form) Benzema and Gareth Bale. For his side, Martino will go with his strongest line up too. We will see Victor Valdez, Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Dani Alves on defense, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas in midfield and Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Neymar in attack.

This is an even battle with two caveats Messi is rounding out to top form and when he does he is the best on the planet. Ronaldo is having a career high period and will continue to so do tomorrow. Bale has yet to prove he is worth his transfer cost and though he will have a good evening he will not be center stage. Neymar, though, is due for a breakout performance on the Spanish stage and this will be his night too. So the match would seem to tilt to Barca.

We will be treated to some of the best these men can offer, we will see goals and saves and plays and defense and passing exemplifying some of the best football on the planet. Each player will bring something noteworthy to the pitch and exhibit it. But in the end Ronaldo and company will prevail. This is his and Real's year in Spain, and they will draw first blood, taking the La Liga title in a single game, and leaving the Copa and Champions League as the stages upon which Barca can get even.

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