El Clasico: Deadlocked Barca, Real aim to seize control of La Liga

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A wonderful Wednesday of football will see El Clasico served up to a public that’s been waiting a few extra weeks for the celebrated meeting of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are set for a 2 p.m. ET Wednesday El Clasico at the Camp Nou in Catalonia, where the jailing of nine Catalan separatists caused an initial postponement.

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Both teams on a league-high 35 points and Barca ahead on goal differential.

Real failed to seize a measure of control in the race for first place when it drew Valencia on Sunday, a day after Barca did the same against Real Sociedad.

Don’t blame Lionel Messi for Barca’s slip-up. He remains the highest-rated player in the world at age 32, with 12 goals and six assists in 901 league minutes.

Frenkie de Jong had admired Messi from afar, but having him as a teammate elevates that respect.

“Everyone knows how important Messi is to us,” De Jong said. “It’s no longer surprising if he scores three goals in a match. He’s so much better than the rest. Any team that faces Messi is always more nervous, I would be too.”

Even with Real Madrid’s defending as good as it’s been in ages, manager Zinedine Zidane admits that the Argentine remains the biggest X-factor in El Clasico.

“We know what we’re facing, we know they have Messi, but we also have our weapons,” Zidane said. “We want to play a good match against Barcelona, who also hope to do the same.”

Zidane’s counterpart Ernesto Valverde knows he has some players making their El Clasico debut. While Antoine Griezmann is used to mixing it up in derbies versus Real from his time at Atleti, De Jong will experience it for the first time.

“It’s a game that is has something different about it and it is played at a different pace,” Valverde said. “They will experience it first hand. You can tell it is a Clásico from the players’ tunnel before you come out.”

Barca is unbeaten in its last six Clasicos.