What you need to know:
- Neto is likely to start his first El Clasico on Saturday.
- Courtois continued that outstanding form into the new season
Winning individual battles will go a long way towards team success in Saturday's La Liga El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Here are five areas where both sides will be looking to gain a valuable advantage over the 90 minutes at the Camp Nou.
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois v Neto
Thibaut Courtois’ outstanding string of saves were crucial to Real Madrid riding out some difficult moments before winning last March's most recent El Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Courtois continued that outstanding form into the new season and has already come up with crucial interventions in victories against Real Sociedad and Levante.
Neto is likely to start his first El Clasico on Saturday, due to Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s injury issues, but the Brazilian has been very solid this season with clean sheets against Villarreal and RC Celta already.
Full-backs: Alvaro Odriozola v Jordi Alba
All teams are going to need to dig deep into their squads this season given the current conditions and squeezed schedule. Real Madrid have had their issues at right-back, where Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Odriozola both got injured in the season's early weeks. Bad luck struck at Barcelona on the other side of their defence, with Jordi Alba and Junior Firpo also experiencing fitness issues.
Odriozola and Alba have worked hard to return for El Clasico, but if they do not make it coaches Zinedine Zidane and Ronald Koeman will have to continue to be creative with their solutions.
Midfielders: Federico Valverde v Frenkie De Jong
Big things are expected this season of Fede Valverde and Frenkie De Jong, with both now well-established in their team’s midfield. Zidane has shown great faith in Valverde, 22, picking him ahead of Luka Modric to start both last season’s El Clasico contests while Koeman showed his belief in De Jong, 23, long before joining Barcelona by handing him a run in the Dutch national team midfield.
Neither have really shown their full potential in El Clasico yet, but both have the mixture of physical and technical gifts to make a huge impression on Saturday.
Playmakers: Martin Odegaard v Philippe Coutinho
Martin Odegaard and Phillipe Coutinho were both ‘new signings’ this summer, returning to clubs they knew well after loan spells elsewhere. Still just 21, Odegaard impressed hugely in La Liga at Real Sociedad last season, while Coutinho won the Bundesliga and Champions League with Bayern Munich.
Zidane put the Norwegian straight into the XI for their first game of 2020/21 back at his former club, while Coutinho has repaid faith from new Barça coach Koeman with impressive contributions in a central playmaking role.
Coutinho even has the memory of an El Clasico goal from his first spell at the club, while Saturday could bring a debut in the fixture for Odegaard.
Forwards: Lionel Messi v Karim Benzema
Messi was the standout player in La Liga before the Covid-19 interruption last season, while Benzema came to the fore to guide Real Madrid to the title post lockdown.
Both have new teammates around them this year but remain the main attacking inspirations for their sides. Messi is still El Clasico’s leading all-time goal scorer with 18 goals in 27 games, while the last of Benzema’s six goals in the fixture came six years ago.
Fans on both sides will be looking to the two established stars to come up with something special again on Saturday at the Camp Nou from 5pm EAT.