El Clasico Preview: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

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  • Real Madrid have beat Barcelona 92 times in official matches, while Barca has tallied 89 wins (49 draws)
  • Lionel Messi has scored 21 goals in 29 Clasicos and is the highest scorer of active members in both squads
  • Both sides have played 229 Clasicos since the two met in the Spanish Cup in 1902 (The Independent)

Undoubtedly, El Clasico features two teams among the world’s best, and when they face each other in front of millions of supporters and television viewers, a huge spectacle arises.

Earlier in the season at the Bernabeu, Neymar opened the scoring in the 4th minute and stunned the Real faithful, who were given comfort after Cristiano Ronaldo equalized on a penalty kick ten minutes before the half. And from that point on, two unanswered goals from Pepe and Karim Benzema had Los Blancos walking away with a 3-1 victory.

Luis Suarez made his starting debut then and provided the assist for his side’s only score. Benzema’s spectacular performance was the obvious takeaway in this one.

Real and Barca meet tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET, switching home turf over to Camp Nou, and many believe this contest will tell a different tale, as Real have staggered lately to win only two of their past five matches.

[RELATED: Pique on Real’s struggles

A frustrated Ronaldo has watched his Ballon d’Or showings fall to the wayside in 2015, netting only seven goals and three assists since the year’s beginning. Benzema and Gareth Bale, the other men in Real’s attacking trio, have also wrestled with unfavorable form.

Meanwhile, Barca have won 18 matches and drawn two, and Lionel Messi has out dueled his rival in Madrid by brandishing magnificent play, burying 18 goals and adding 11 assists from the start of 2015.

Sitting atop La Liga, Barcelona’s confidence is high, and Real—only one point behind the Catalans—will fight hard to remain within striking distance of the title.

Get ready for quite the contest in northeastern Spain.

What they’re saying

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique on approach to match (FC Barcelona official website): “We’ll try to carry on doing what we have done up to now, which is create more chances than the opposition, control the pace of the game, have players in the right place at the right time, control our emotions and push each other in the right direction…We like to control the ball and, as much as possible, do so in the opposition’s half.”

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema on dealing with nerves (Yahoo! Sport): “We know that there’s a lot of pressure, but that’s normal because it’s a huge match. Every player who loves football wants to play in it. We’re going to prepare well for the match, all together, to go to Barcelona and win…We’re Real Madrid. To score again like I did in our first meeting of the season, I need a bit of luck and nothing else.”

Match injuries/absences

Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are both back from short suspensions for Barcelona. Sergio Busquets may be back as well after sitting out for three games due to an ankle injury sustained in Barca’s Copa del Rey match vs. Villarreal. Defender Thomas Vermaelen is still eyeing his return in April.

Meanwhile, for Real, it’s James Rodriquez that will not perform because of his broken foot, while Luka Modric could get the start, with Isco and Toni Kroos also all-clear for the match.

Prediction

It’s seems that based on present form, Barcelona is the favorite to win, but Real players know the odds are against them. Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid.

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.