Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi could be the difference in the first Clasico of the La Liga season. Reuters

The two most prominent La Liga clubs, and perhaps the two most formidable clubs in the world, meet on Sunday when Barcelona host Real Madrid at Camp Nou.

Both clubs boast an array of stars, but the high-profile match up has some new and interesting storylines.

The most notable news heading into the match is the injury to Carlos Puyol. The influential captain will be sidelined for six weeks with a dislocated elbow. With fellow first choice center-back Gerard Pique also ruled out, the loss of Puyol is a painful one.

The other top story is the weak start to the season for Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho’s squad already have two losses, and are eight points behind undefeated Barcelona.

Los Blancos have been particularly strong in recent weeks, though. Real Madrid defeated Manchester City in Champions League action on Sept. 18, and then rolled past Raya Vallecano, Deportivo La Coruna, and Ajax by a combined score of 11-2.

Barcelona have been strong thus far in all competitions, but have not been their dominant selves. In their last four matches, Barcelona have won each of their matches by a combined total of 10-4. It may be stretching to put down a team that won every meaningful match this season, but Barcelona are accustomed to thumping their opponents, and simply haven’t done that this season.

With the departure of Pep Guardiola, Barcelona may not have the swagger they once had under the legendary manager. The Catalans have survived some scares this season from Osasuna, Valencia, and Sevilla, as well as Spartak Moscow in Champions League, as opposed to winning in convincing fashion.

Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas has suggested his frustration at a lack of playing time, with some outlandish speculation even suggesting a return to Arsenal.

This is still Barcelona, however. Lionel Messi remains the most dominant player in the world, though Atletico Madrid star Radamel Falcao looks like he may provide both Messi and Ronaldo competition in the race for this year’s Pichichi. The Catalans also boast perhaps the most efficient pair of playmakers in the world in Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.

Real Madrid may feel some momentum heading into the match. Los Merengues managed two goals against Barcelona when the two clubs met in the first leg of the Super Cup at Camp Nou in August, and won the trophy with a victory at the Bernabeu.

The last time the two clubs met at Camp Nou for a La Liga match was back in April when Real effectively secured the title with a 2-1 victory thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo winner.

Barcelona will have revenge on their mind, and the club that has won all six of their league matches this year are desperate to regain their status as the dominant force in Spanish soccer.

Prediction: Messi will be on his game, and Barcelona will hold off Real Madrid in another physical battle. Expect red cards in this one, as Real Madrid will have to foul to slow the tremendous passing attack of the Catalans.

PREDICTED SCORE: Barcelona over Real Madrid, 3-1