Barcelona's Neymar and Madrid's Gareth Bale to make Clasico debuts
Brazilian and Welsh new boys are being lined up to face each other in their first big clash of the season between Spanish giants
Agence France-Presse in Madrid
Neymar and Gareth Bale will get their first taste of a clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid since joining the Spanish giants in Saturday's first El Clasico of the season.
The Catalans hold a three-point lead over Madrid at the top of the table, but it is Carlo Ancelotti's men who have enjoyed a significantly better week in the run-up to the match.
Barca dropped their first points of the season with a 0-0 draw at Osasuna last weekend and were then held 1-1 by AC Milan at the San Siro on Tuesday.
Madrid took advantage of that rare slip-up by their rivals with a 2-0 win over Malaga and just about sealed their place in the Champions League last-16 by beating Juventus 2-1.
The Malaga match in particular saw a marked improvement in Real's performance and Madrid haven't been beaten in their past five matches against Barcelona.
However, Real defender Sergio Ramos doesn't believe last season's meetings between the two will be a big factor come kick-off at the Camp Nou.
"On Saturday, we have an important game and it would be a notable step to win in the Camp Nou, but we know meetings there are always difficult and anything can happen," he said.
"When evaluating a Clasico you don't have to look at the previous results, nor even the last one. These games are always of the highest level and intensity.
"There are things that we have to continue improving, but it is always nice to arrive at the Clasico after a victory."
Ancelotti has some selection problems for his own first experience of a Clasico, particularly in the case of Bale. The Welshman was introduced as a substitute with 25 minutes to go against Juventus as he continues his comeback from injury, but failed to make any significant impact on the tie.
Ancelotti blamed his mediocre showing on the overall failure of the team to maintain the intensity they showed in the opening period and insisted that Bale is now fit enough to start. However, it seems more likely that Bale will again be used as an impact substitute with Ancelotti also keen to keep faith with the under-fire Karim Benzema.
There is no doubt that Neymar will join world player of the year Lionel Messi in attack for the hosts and the Brazilian admitted that it is for this kind of game that he swapped Brazil for Barcelona in June.
"A Clasico is the most important game for any player," he told Barca TV. "It is the game that every player wants to play in and show their best football. This will be my first one and I want to make a great debut, preferably with a victory."
Gerardo Martino must decide whether to recall Pedro Rodriguez and Cesc Fabregas after they were both dropped to the bench at Milan.
However, the Argentine may be forced into a change at the back as Gerard Pique is struggling with a hamstring injury, meaning Carles Puyol may continue his comeback alongside Javier Mascherano.
Should Barca's winless streak against Real continue, then Atletico Madrid will have the chance to move top of the table with a win over Real Betis tomorrow.
The likes of David Villa, Diego Godin and Mario Suarez should return to join Diego Costa.