When the date of the game was revealed, it seemed too good to be true. The season’s first edition of the world’s premier rivalry will also be the day that Luis Suárez returns from a most infamous suspension. On June 26, Suárez bit the shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini under the most intense spotlight of the World Cup and was handed a near-unprecedented four month suspension. On Saturday his waiting ends. His Barcelona career begins with Real Madrid and El Clásico.
While he can play, the question now dominating the typically frenetic and partisan coverage in the buildup to the clash between Spain’s great rivals is whether he is fit to play. For nearly two months, the Uruguayan was banned from all football activity, with the exception of a transfer to Liverpool, for a reported €94 million. The Court of Arbitration for Sport reversed the most severe aspect of his suspension in mid-August, meaning that he could finally train with his new teammates and even take part in non-competitive matches. His debut came in a friendly a couple of days later, while he returned for his country in this month’s internationals against Saudi Arabia and Oman, scoring twice against the latter.
“I am ready,” he told German Publication Kicker. “I am at 100 percent. Not long ago, I would not have said that, but I feel very good after the two international games for Uruguay.”
Suárez has previous in making an instant impact on the big stage after a layoff. Just seven days before his moment of shame against Italy came one of brilliance against England to net a late, late winner, having previously given Uruguay the lead. Still, it would be unquestionably asking a lot of the 27-year-old to throw him into a fierce duel at the Bernabeu when Barcelona will aim to at least preserve a four-point advantage over their long-time foes in La Liga.
For all the abilities that helped him earn a share of the European Golden Shoe last season with Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, there remain long-term questions of just how he will fit into a team already featuring two star forwards. Neymar arrived just over a year ago as Brazil’s golden boy and this season has flourished into a brilliant accomplice for Lionel Messi. Suárez, another player used to be his team’s focal point, must now adapt similarly to an altered landscape pecking order.
If Suárez only makes the substitute’s bench against Madrid, then a man used to being a true team player, Pedro, will likely start. Behind the front three, there remains concern over the fitness of Sergio Busquets. The holding midfielder missed both the 3-0 win over Eibar and the 3-1 victory over Ajax in midweek. Javier Mascherano would be expected to deputize again in Busquets’ absence, with Gerard Pique joining impressive new signing Jérémy Mathieu at center-back.
Real Madrid already know they will be without one of their big names. The most expensive player in history, Gareth Bale is ruled out through injury, although his absence was not especially keenly felt at Anfield on Wednesday night. With Isco impressing in the Welshman’s place, Madrid ran riot against Liverpool, racing into a 3-0 halftime lead thanks to an opening goal from Ronaldo and a brace from Karim Benzema.
The commanding advantage meant Ronaldo, who now has an incredible 18 goals in his last 10 games, could be taken off in the second half, just as Neymar and Messi were 24 hours earlier, in order to prepare for El Clásico. Still the current world player of the year has expressed his frustration that the match is being played on Saturday rather than Sunday, giving Barcelona an extra day’s rest. That should still be enough time, though, for Sergio Ramos to regain fitness after a calf injury. The center-back resumed training on Thursday.
D: Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo
M: Rodriguez, Modric, Kroos, Isco
F: Benzema, Ronaldo
D: Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Suárez, Messi, Neymar