Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Messi on the bench for 1st 'clasico' of the season

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Messi on the bench for 1st 'clasico' of the season

MADRID – Lionel Messi will be on the bench when Barcelona plays at Real Madrid in the first "clasico" of the season on Saturday.

The Argentine playmaker has recovered from a left knee injury that kept him sidelined for nearly two months, yet he will not start Saturday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique had said Friday that Messi had healed from the injury yet was not yet 100 per cent fit.

p>Enrique said it would be mostly up to the player to decide if felt confident enough to play from the start.

Messi, the all-time scorer in the "clasico" with 21 goals, hasn't played in nine matches, since tearing a ligament in his left knee in a Spanish league game against Las Palmas on Sept. 26.

Midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who was nursing a muscle injury, was included in the team's starting lineup, as were Luis Suarez & Neymar, who have scored 20 of the 23 goals scored by Barcelona since Messi received injured.

Real Madrid was at full strength for the home game, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale & Karim Benzema playing up front.

Bale & Benzema had been listed as doubtful because of injuries, & Benzema has moreover been dealing with a sex tape controversy that led him to being briefly detained in France two weeks ago.

Coach Rafa Benitez decided to start with playmaker James Rodriguez instead of defensive midfielder Casemiro, giving the team a more offensive setup. Rodriguez was coming off two full games with Colombia's national team & it wasn't certain he could play the entire game on Saturday.

Captain Sergio Ramos, who had been nursing a shoulder injury, was moreover in the starting 11 for Madrid, which is unbeaten at home in 22 Spanish league games.

Barcelona has a three-point lead over Real Madrid after 12 rounds. Madrid lost its first match of the season two weeks ago at Sevilla, yet it can return to the top of the standings with a win over the rival because it has a better goal difference.

Unprecedented security measures were in place at the Bernabeu following the attacks in Paris last week, with nearly 3,000 policemen & private security officers working to maintain public safety outside & inside the 81,000-capacity venue.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni

Source: “The Canadian Press”

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