Lionel Messi Targets Record as Luis Suarez Debuts in El Clasico
Luis Suarez has been restricted to a few friendly games for club and country since sealing a 75 million-pound ($127 million, 95 million euros) move from Liverpool after receiving a four-month ban for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup back in June.
Luis Suarez is free to make his long-awaited debut for Barcelona when the La Liga leaders travel to face Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season on Saturday. (El Clasico: A Classic, Bitter Battle)
Suarez has been restricted to a few friendly games for club and country since sealing a 75 million-pound ($127 million, 95 million euros) move from Liverpool after receiving a four-month ban for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup back in June.
The Uruguayan's temperament will be tested by the red-hot atmosphere at the Santiago Bernabeu, but even on his debut Suarez could be overshadowed by teammate Lionel Messi.
The four-time World Player of the Year is just one goal away from matching the 251 goals Telmo Zarra scored for Athletic Bilbao between 1940 to 1955 to become the all-time leading goalscorer in La Liga.
And midfielder Andres Iniesta is hoping both will shine to continue Barca's fine recent record at the Bernabeu, where they have won four of the last six league meetings.
"I hope Messi scores two because it would be a great sign for us," said the Spanish international on Thursday.
"It is difficult to know what you will come up against because the details make the difference. It can swing to one side or the other in any moment, but we want to make the most of our strengths, be effective and try to play very well to win the game. It is never easy to win at the Bernabeu.
"Fortunately the time has come and the moment has arrived when Luis can play. He is very happy and it is important for the rest of the group too. We hope that he performs just as well as he has always done."
Madrid have a World Cup star of their own making his bow in the Clasico in Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez.
"It is going to be a hard game. I want to approach it calmly, responsibly and be really up for it to help the team get the victory," said the Colombian.
More responsibility will be placed on Rodriguez's shoulders as Gareth Bale misses out through injury.
However, the 23-year-old has begun to show signs of his form from Brazil in recent weeks, including a lovely assist for Cristiano Ronaldo's opening goal as Madrid sealed their eighth consecutive win in all competitions with a 3-0 win over Liverpool on Wednesday.
"I am in good form, as is the rest of the squad," he added. "We have a strong group and mentally we are all united."
Defender Sergio Ramos is a doubt as he has missed the last four games for club and country with a calf strain, but did return to training alongside his teammates on Thursday.
Barcelona's only injury doubt is Sergio Busquets. The Spanish international missed Tuesday's 3-1 win over Ajax due to a knock on his hip, but is expected to recover to take his place in the starting line-up.
Elsewhere, Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid will be hoping to take advantage of the points dropped by one of or both Barca and Madrid.
Valencia have the easiest task on paper and could hand a debut to Alvaro Negredo when they host struggling Elche at the Mestalla on Saturday
Defeat for Barca at the Bernabeu would allow Sevilla to go joint top with victory at home to Villarreal on Sunday.
Meanwhile, champions Atletico will be looking to round off a fine week after thrashing Malmo 5-0 in the Champions League when they travel across Madrid to take on Getafe.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Celta Vigo v Levante (1900)
Almeria v Athletic Bilbao (1400), Real Madrid v Barcelona (1600), Valencia v Elche (1800), Cordoba v Real Sociedad (2000), Eibar v Granada (2000)
Malaga v Rayo Vallecano (1000), Espanyol v Deportivo la Coruna (1500), Sevilla v Villarreal (1700), Getafe v Atletico Madrid (1900)