Looking ahead: Season’s first Clasico finds an under-pressure Real Madrid

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Whether Lionel Messi plays or not, Real Madrid is going to have its hands full at the Bernabeu for Saturday’s El Clasico against Barcelona.

The hosts enter Saturday’s match three points behind Barcelona for the La Liga lead, and want to do something no one’s done since Oct. 3: win against the Blaugranas.

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Compare that with Madrid, which fell in its last La Liga match and hasn’t kept a domestic clean sheet in a calendar month. And now the hyperactive Real rumor mill is even claiming that Rafa Benitez‘s first season in charge could end prematurely.

Goal.com says that Cristiano Ronaldo told Real boss Florentino Perez that the club’s short-term future isn’t secure with former Liverpool boss.

ElConfidencial claims that in a meeting with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, Ronaldo said of Benitez: “With this coach we will not win anything”.

That seems crazy, but it’s also something we see under Perez: No one is safe. Carlo Ancelotti was canned one year after winning La Decima.

Imagine Barca, without Messi, wins at the Bernabeu to take a six-point table lead in November. Imagine that Real’s crosstown rivals Atletico win to move into second place.

It’s difficult to believe that with all of those scenarios, and with Madrid easing into the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, that Perez would make a move to contradict his largely-unpopular managerial move away from Ancelotti.

Still, Perez is out of this world aggressive. Would you totally rule it out?

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Neymar had a chance to cement his promise as a top-end star. He’s done that. And Benitez was brought in to help stifle that shine. Saturday marks his first chance.