MADRID — Not one to be easily upstaged, Cristiano Ronaldo
appears eager to spoil what could be a record-breaking day for Lionel Messi in
the first clasico of the season.
Ronaldo and Real Madrid are on an eight-game winning streak
but can ill afford a loss at home to Messi and Barcelona that would leave them
seven points adrift from their fierce rivals at the top of the Spanish
While Ronaldo is in spectacular form, manager Carlo
Ancelotti may have to again find replacements for Gareth Bale and defender
Sergio Ramos with both nursing nagging injuries.
Here are five Madrid players to keep an eye on at the
Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday:
RAMPANT RONALDO: If you thought you had seen the best
Ronaldo could offer last year when he ended Messi's four-year run as the
world's best player, think again.
Ronaldo has made an unprecedented start to this season after
a disappointing World Cup, with 20 goals through 13 games, setting a Spanish
league record with 15 goals in the first eight rounds. The forward has found
the back of the net in 10 games in a row for Madrid — as well as giving
Portugal a 1-0 win over Denmark in a European Championship qualifier with a
goal deep in injury time.
He will be facing Messi, who is one goal away from equaling
the Spanish league record of 251 goals as its all-time leading scorer.
"I feel good, in high spirits," Ronaldo said after
scoring in the 3-0 win at Liverpool on Wednesday. "I want to keep up my
streak. It will be a tough game because Barcelona is playing well."
ALL EYES ON IKER: Criticized for his poor play with Spain
during and after the World Cup, Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas is in need of a
sound showing against Barcelona with Keylor Navas waiting on the bench.
Once considered an idol of Madrid's faithful, Casillas was
jeered by segments of the Santiago Bernabeu during shaky performances earlier
The key will be for him to stop Messi, something he has not
had much luck doing.
Casillas said he has faith that Ronaldo will help him.
"Cristiano is better than Messi," Casillas said.
"Cristiano is playing at an incredible level."
THE QUIET MAN: While Ronaldo soaks up the glory, strike
partner Karim Benzema is thriving as his quiet sidekick.
The last time Madrid played Barcelona, Benzema's well-timed
runs and passes from the point of attack were overshadowed by Bale's amazing
sprint for a late goal to win the Copa del Rey.
Benzema scored twice against Liverpool and is likely to
start again, leaving Javier Hernandez to come off the bench."We are playing at our best and are going
to win," Benzema said.
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