Barcelona meet Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season on Saturday.
The Catalans start the weekend top of LaLiga with a four-point advantage over seventh-placed Real.
Here, Football Paradise looks at the main talking points ahead of the fixture.
Lopetegui on the brink
Real ended a run of five games without a victory in midweek by beating Czech minnows Viktoria Plzen 2-1 in the Champions League. But another sub-par performance could put more question marks against Julen Lopetegui’s future. Former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has reportedly been approached already to take over at the Bernabeu if Lopetegui leaves. Lose in Barcelona and it could be all over for the former Spain boss.
Messi magic missing
Barcelona minus Lionel Messi is almost akin to the city being without Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. The Argentina wizard shows no signs of ageing past his 31st birthday and has scored 12 goals this season. But Messi suffered a fracture to his right arm against Sevilla last weekend and was in the stands on Wednesday as Barcelona beat Inter Milan in the Champions League. Messi is expected to be out for three weeks, and his absence gives Real hope of getting back in the title race.
Who can light up El Clasico?
This will be the first El Clasico without Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo since December 2007. It was another football age back then with the likes of Deco, Gabriel Heinze and Ruud van Nistelrooy featuring in a game settled by Julio Baptista. With Messi injured and Ronaldo now strutting his stuff in Serie A with Juventus, the stage is free for someone to take star billing. There are no shortage of candidates on either side, but can anyone stand up to become the main man?
Can Bale silence the critics?
It often appears that no matter what Gareth Bale does – and he has done plenty in his five years in Spain – it is not enough for some sections of the Madrid media and Real fan base. Bale hit the ground running with four goals in the first six games as Real began life without Ronaldo. But yet another injury cost the Welshman game-time, and he has not scored in his last five appearances. A match-winning performance at the Camp Nou would go a long way to winning the sceptical Madridistas over.
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