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Home » Sport » Football

Barcelona v Real: The key protagonists

Real Madrid travel to Barcelona for the fourth and final instalment of their increasingly sour mini-series of Clasicos amid hope that the beautiful game will rise above the animosity, despite the huge stakes.

Matches between the two sides are invariably hotly contested and, given the dominance of the pair in Spain, there is almost always some kind of silverware on the line.

But rarely do they meet on a European level with a place in the Champions League final up for grabs.

Years of intense rivalry has led to simmering animosity between the two sides, but this time around, thanks to the antics on and off the pitch over the past fortnight, the bitterness has well and truly boiled over.

The tightly-packed four-fixture series has so far seen a war of words erupt off the pitch, with Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola trading verbal punches like the managerial heavyweights they are.

On the pitch it has been no different, with last week's first leg - the two sides' third encounter in less than a week and a half - a particularly spiteful, ugly spectacle to endure.

Some have blamed Mourinho's spoiling tactics and his side's heavy-handed approach to suppressing their opponents' attacking threat, while some have pointed the finger at Barca's play-acting and perceived influencing of the referee.

Either way, with the stakes so high, both sides are clearly desperate to get the upper hand - apparently willing to do just about anything to win.

Tonight's match is unlikely to be any different, although with Real chasing the game at 2-0 down, at least we can expect Mourinho's side to attack with a little more purpose than they did at the Bernabeu last week.

With that in mind, we take a look at five likely key protagonists at the Camp Nou.

Frank De Bleeckere

Mourinho's extraordinary rant after last week's game, when he pointed to long-standing favouritism shown by officials towards Barca, has heaped the pressure on the shoulders of the tonight's match official - he was named by Mourinho as one of the refs apparently involved in this pro-Barca conspiracy. The Belgian whistle-blower's every decision is sure now to be scrutinised by Mourinho from his vantage point in the stands and by millions watching on TV around the world. All he can do is use his experience and call things how he sees them, with help from his assistants. Anything less and he can expect a panning - you almost have to feel sorry for the bloke.

Jose Mourinho

He may be in exile, but Mourinho will still have a huge influence on this match. Already his comments may have had a bearing on how the game will be officiated but it is how he sets up his Madrid side in Barcelona that will determine whether he is able to lead a third team to Champions League glory. With a two-goal deficit to make up, the onus has to be on attack, yet getting the ball off Barca, especially at home, is a tough task. Simply soaking up pressure and hoping to hit on the break is a perilous road to go down, as they found out last week, so Mourinho needs to think of something different this time. That as yet elusive balance between attacking impulse and defensive caution will be absolutely crucial to the outcome of the game.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Key to Mourinho's game plan in the attacking third will be Ronaldo, who was largely anonymous last week and is due a big performance. The Portuguese can be the most devastating player in the game on his day but his threat was minimal six days ago when he played as a lone striker. A more attacking game plan at the Camp Nou will certainly play to the former Manchester United man's strengths and given that he was rested at the weekend in preparation for tonight's game, he will at least have a full set of batteries.

Sergio Busquets

The unsung hero of the Barcelona side. Or perhaps that should read the unsung villain. The Machiavellian character in the middle of Barca's midfield was crucial to their success over Madrid last week and it was his imperious display just in front of the back four that did much to keep Madrid's forward forays to a minimum. And that's not to mention the assorted delights of his play-acting, diving and continual harassment of the referee, the latter which may have (or may not) have influenced Pepe's sending off.

Lionel Messi

For all this talk of Real Madrid's expected attacking threat in the second leg, there is almost a sense of inevitability that come the end of the game, we will all be talking about yet another moment of magic from the World Player of the Year. Messi rose above the sourness and spite a week ago to deliver two goals, the second of which was an individual gem, and with Barca expected to continue to push forward in the second leg, Messi could well be the man who puts Madrid to the sword.

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