Madrid - An unprecedented level of security will be put in
place for Real Madrid's huge clash with Barcelona on Saturday in response to
the deadly attacks on Paris a week ago.
The security threat to what is widely regarded as the
biggest game in world football, with an estimated global television audience of
500 million, has even overshadowed the return of Lionel Messi for Barcelona
after a two-month injury layoff.
Spanish government officials have promised a security
presence of 2,400 police, stewards and emergency services at the Santiago
Bernabeu to form a triple ring of security around the stadium.
The Stade de France, where France were hosting Germany, was
one of a number of targets struck during the attacks on Friday that left 129
dead and over 350 injured.
Meanwhile, Spain's friendly against Belgium in Brussels was
postponed due to the elevated terror threat and Germany's meeting with the
Netherlands called off by a bomb threat on Tuesday.
Also read: Neymar breaks out of Messi’s shadow ahead of El Classico
However, the Spanish authorities insist that there is no
reason to believe another late postponement will be required.
"It is a shame that people aren't talking about sport,
football or the spectacle, but it is the reality we live in and we can't ignore
it," said Barca captain Andres Iniesta on Thursday.
"We have to try to return to normality."
On the field, Barca lead Madrid by three points at the top
of the table despite being without Messi for the last two months.
The Argentine seems certain to feature after taking a full
part in training this week, but it is still unknown whether coach Luis Enrique
will risk his star from the start or allow him to ease back into action from
"If we can count on Leo from the start our chances are
much greater," added Iniesta.
In Messi's absence, Luis Suarez and Neymar have propelled
Barca to five wins in their last six league games and scored all of the
European champions' last 17 league goals.
- Benzema back -
Madrid will be hoping their own much-hyped front three can
perform likewise after a slow start to the season provoked by poor form,
injuries and off-field problems.
Saturday will be just the third time this season that all of
Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema start together.
Benzema will play for the first time since being charged
with complicity to blackmail and conspiring to commit a criminal act in his
native France in a case involving a sex tape featuring international teammate
Meanwhile, Bale needs a big performance to alleviate the
mounting critics of the Welshman's inability to perform for Madrid in the
"I feel strong, in shape for this game and ready for
the battle," Bale told Madrid's website.
"I want to keep trying to give my best, to work hard
and to help the team win."
Madrid boss Rafael Benitez is hoping to count on a fully-fit
squad for the first time this season as goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Sergio Ramos
and Marcelo look set to shrug off injuries picked up before the international
Dani Carvajal is also expected to replace Danilo at
right-back, while Benitez has a big decision over whether to start James
Rodriguez after he proved his match fitness by playing 180 minutes for Colombia
over the past week.
Other than Messi, Barca's other injury concern is over Ivan
Rakitic, who is doubtful with a calf injury.
The clash between the top two will favour third-placed
Atletico Madrid should they manage to win at Real Betis on Sunday.
Diego Simeone's men sit just one point adrift of Real
the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us
on Twitter and like our Facebook page.