Barcelona, Real prepare for La Liga meet

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Barcelona host Real Madrid at the Nou Camp on Saturday in what promises to be the biggest match to date in the current Spanish Primera Liga season.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
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Barcelona host Real Madrid at the Nou Camp on Saturday in what promises to be the biggest match to date in the current Spanish Primera Liga season. With just four points separating league leaders Barcelona from Real at the top of the La Liga standings, there will be more than just pride to play for in the latest "el clasico". Barcelona suffered their first defeat of the Spanish Primera Liga season at the hands of Real Betis on November 14. While Barca's unbeaten run was coming to an end in Seville, rivals Real Madrid were heading towards their most emphatic win of the season at the Bernabeu Stadium - a 6-1 thrashing of Albacete. The results saw Real move into second place in La Liga standings - just four points behind league leaders Barca - and added further spice to this weekend's derby. But the fact that Frank Rijkaard's side are challenging for the Spanish title for the first time in five years has raised the profile of this season's two derby games. Re-establish lead A chance to re-establish a seven point lead over Real and consolidate their title campaign should be enough of an incentive for Barca, but they will also be looking for revenge. Real won 2-1 in the same fixture last season, beating Barca at the Nou Camp for the first time in 20 years. It was a bitter blow, but the team has undergone wholesale changes since then and Saturday's line-up will be radically different from last season's side. However, one Barca player who knows exactly what to expect from Saturday's game is veteran Barca midfielder Xavi. "We must go into the match thinking that we are doing our job well, that this match is only three points and Real Madrid is a direct rival for the title. It is a fantastic match to win the three points and to show our fans we want to win the title this year," said Xavi. A slew of summer signings have transferred the rest of the team with Samuel Eto'o, Deco, Ludovic Giuly, Henrik Larsson and others contributing creative flair all over the pitch. As a former Celtic player, Larsson has already tasted the atmosphere of one of football's most heated derbies. Intense match? But will Saturday's match be even more intense than Celtic versus Rangers in the old firm derby? "For me it is impossible to say. The atmosphere for the old firm game is quite hectic and it looks the same here today, all week. So in that sense yes, it is quite similar, but I don't know how it is going to be on the pitch," said Larsson. Rijkaard believes that Real Madrid have hit form at the right time in the season, which may not be good news for Barca. But the former Dutch international hopes that his side can continue to show the level of commitment that has lifted them to the top of the league. Reputations at stake The reputations of both sides are riding on the match, but Rijkaard believes that victory is all that matters when the final whistle blows. Barcelona last won the Spanish title in 1999, but they sold influential midfielder Luis Figo a season later and had failed to challenge for league honours since then. Figo's destiny would lie at the Bernabeu Stadium and he helped Real to win two Spanish titles over the next three seasons. The Portuguese international is guaranteed a warm reception by the majority of the 98,000 fans in attendance, while Ronaldo, another former Barca player, can also expect lots of attention from the passionate crowd. Saturday's match will be the first of this season's two derbies between Barca and Real. If the game lives up to the hype then Spanish football fans will still be talking about it when the return fixture is played in Madrid next April. (AP)

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