El Clasico: No Messi or Ronaldo for first time in 11 years – but still expect fireworks

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El Clasico: No Messi or Ronaldo for first time in 11 years – but still expect fireworks Get short URL An El Clasico minus the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi has been unthinkable for more than a decade – but on Sunday it will be a reality when Barcelona meet Real Madrid in football’s most iconic club fixture.

Despite the absence of world football's biggest stars, there will be no shortage of intrigue in Sunday’s showdown at the Nou Camp – not least for embattled Real boss Julen Lopetegui, whose future in the Los Blancos hotseat will likely depend on the outcome.

RT Sport breaks down what you need to know about the Clasico.

RONALDO MOVES ON, MESSI MISSES OUT

You have to go back more than a decade – to December 2007, to be precise – to find a Barcelona versus Real Madrid encounter that didn’t feature Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

In that respect, this weekend’s encounter at the Nou Camp marks a new era.

Ronaldo moved on to pastures new this summer with his €100 million switch to Juventus, while Messi misses out through injury, having fractured his arm in Barca’s La Liga win against Sevilla last weekend.

The pair’s battle to be the best of their generation has elevated football to new heights and has, unsurprisingly, made its mark on club football’s most famous meeting down the years.

Messi is the all-time leading scorer in the fixture, with 26 goals, while Ronaldo holds the record for scoring in the most consecutive Clasicos – six.

They have each conjured up countless magic moments in the game. Messi scored his 500th goal in the Catalan club’s colors when he netted a stunning injury time winner at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2017, famously whipping off his shirt and holding it up to the Madrid faithful.

Ronaldo had the pleasure of securing Real’s grip on the La Liga title in 2012 when he struck at the Camp Nou – pulling out the famous ‘calma, calma’ celebration in front of the baying Barca masses.

How the two teams cope with the absence of their talisman – both past and present – will go a long way to determining who comes out on top in the latest edition of the Clasico.

LOPETEGUI ON THE BRINK

One man with more riding on Sunday’s result than anyone else is Blancos boss Julen Lopetegui. After stepping in to replace club legend Zinedine Zidane in controversial circumstances this summer, the ex-Spain manager has endured a torrid time.

Real are enduring their worst start to a season in 17 years, and went a club record 482 minutes without scoring as they lost four out of five games before they finally secured an unconvincing Champions League win against Czech minnows Viktoria Plzen mid-week.

They sit seventh in the La Liga table with 14 points from nine games – four behind Barca, who endured their own four-game winless run before beating Sevilla 4-2 last weekend.

But perhaps more importantly for Lopetegui's fate, Real have rarely showed signs of playing the swashbuckling football demanded by fans and officials at the famous club.

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The players have rallied behind Lopetegui and are said to be desperate to save their boss with a result on Sunday, but defeat against Barca coupled with an insipid performance would surely seal an early exit for the 52-year-old.

WHO WILL STEP UP WITHOUT MESSI AND RONALDO?

The absence of the game’s two brightest starts from its brightest club fixture leaves the door open for others to make their mark.

While Gareth Bale has endured difficult spells during his time in Spain – often enforced through injury – he has consistently stepped up with big goals in big games for Real, including his double in May’s Champions League final win against Liverpool.

The last time Real met Barca in La Liga at the Nou Camp the Welshman netted a superb strike to salvage a draw for his team, and when they meet again on Sunday, the 29-year-old is most likely to emerge as a match-winner from the Real ranks.

For Barca, Messi’s absence means more reliance on the Argentine's usual strike partner Luis Suarez and Brazilian ace Philippe Coutinho.

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde could also call on Ousmane Dembele, although the talented 21-year-old has yet to hit the heights many expected following his $150 million move from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

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He was not used at all in Barca’s mid-week Champions League win over Inter Milan, so Valverde is unlikely to call on him from the start against Real, and could instead charge midfielder Sergi Roberto with playing further up the pitch.

KEY BATTLE

With extra weight on his shoulders in the absence of Messi, Uruguayan livewire Suarez will need to lead the line for Barca and his battle with Real skipper Sergio Ramos will be key.

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The combustible pair clashed in the last La Liga El Clasico in May, and Ramos will be fired up on Sunday by the knowledge that Lopetegui's future could depend on the result, having given the coach important backing when he was chosen for the role this summer.

Whoever gets the upper hand in the pair’s duel on Sunday could unlock the key to the game.

WHAT TIME DOES THE GAME KICK OFF?

All the action gets underway at the Nou Camp on Sunday, October 28 at 15:15 GMT.

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