Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain has pointed out a lot has changed since last season’s ‘El Clasico’ humiliation at the hands of Barcelona.
The two Spanish superpowers go into Saturday’s encounter at the Bernabeu locked together on 77 points at the top of the standings but with Madrid currently holding the slight upper hand due to their superior goal difference.
Madrid are in stunning form, having won their last 12 league matches and boasting a perfect home record with 15 victories out of 15 this season. They have also netted 83 goals in total – eight more than Barca.
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However, Madrid were in similarly good form going into last season’s corresponding fixture, which was also a vital game in the title race but ended up being one of the most painful in the club’s illustrious history.
Under Juande Ramos, Madrid had earned 52 from a possible 54 points to trim Barca’s lead at the summit back to four points with five games remaining, and everything was looking rosy when Higuain gave them a 14th-minute lead against their arch rivals.
It was all largely downhill from there though as Barca hit back to crush Madrid 6-2 and Ramos’ men would end up losing their final four fixtures and waving goodbye to their Primera Division title.
Madrid will be desperate to avoid a repeat showing this time, and when quizzed about last season’s match Higuain said: "There has been a big change. There are new players, a new coach and, above all, a great run of victories that have have given us a lot of confidence."
Last May’s fixture ended up all but deciding the title – Barca clinched the league a fortnight later without kicking a ball after Madrid lost to Villarreal – but Higuain does not believe Saturday’s encounter will be the definitive match of this season’s race.
"It’s a vital game, but not decisive," said the in-form Argentinian in AS.
"Winning a Clasico gives you a big morale boost for the games that follow, (but) there are 21 points left afterwards, which are enough to say that the game will not be definitive."
Like Madrid, Barca are also flying at present with seven wins in their last eight league games while they also progressed through to the semi-finals of the Champions League this week with a hugely impressive 6-3 aggregate win over Arsenal.
That victory kept Pep Guardiola’s side on course to retain their European crown – one of six titles the Catalan club won last season – and their confidence will be sky-high heading to the Bernabeu.
Higuain said of the reigning Spanish champions: "They have almost no weaknesses, or at least very few, which we hope to expose. We have the ability to do that."
The 22-year-old Higuain took his tally of goals to 24 for the season during last weekend’s 2-0 win over Racing Santander, and he is now just two behind countryman Lionel Messi at the top of the Primera Division scoring charts.
Messi has been in phenomenal form this season and his four-goal salvo in Tuesday’s 4-1 Champions League defeat of Arsenal took his tally to 39 in all competitions.
An intriguing sub-plot to this weekend’s Clasico is the battle for supremacy between Messi and Madrid’s £80million man Cristiano Ronaldo, two players who are rated by many as the best on the planet.
Messi is the man stealing all the headlines at the minute but Higuain is hoping it is his Madrid team-mate Ronaldo who wins the battle this weekend.
"They are two great players, among the best in the world. Both of them decide matches and hopefully this Saturday it will be Cristiano who is better," added Higuain.