Ronaldo, Messi set for showdown

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are back from injury and will face each other in the “clasico” derby between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Spanish league’s most eagerly anticipated match of the early season.

Messi was rested during Barcelona’s 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan after injuring his left thigh muscle in league play, while Ronaldo returned from a nearly two-month absence to play about 20 minutes in Madrid’s 1-0 win over FC Zurich on Wednesday.

With Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic also recovered from a hamstring injury, Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou has all the ingredients to become a classic as Madrid holds a one-point lead over the defending champions in the standings.

“It’s difficult to play against them but we also have our own weapons and we’re going to do things well so that we can get the win,” Ronaldo said. “We want to win in the Camp Nou, and we’re going to do things well to give ourselves a chance at victory.”

Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema will all be experiencing their first derby after Madrid spent heavily in the offseason to close the gap on Barcelona, which became the first Spanish club to win the league, Champions League and Copa del Rey titles in one season.

Madrid will be eager to show a better side than in the last meeting, a record 6-2 loss at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. But Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini remains troubled by his team’s play even if it has managed to start the season well.

“Of course their style of play is distinct. They have a clear concept while we’re in the midst of searching out a different way from last year,” the Chilean coach said. “We’re worried because this isn’t the style of play we want for the team. It’s not the style I like as a coach.”

Even without Messi and Ibrahimovic, Barcelona showed it can easily dominate behind its high speed passing game orchestrated by Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

The duel is the first between Messi and Ronaldo since the Portugal winger’s $136 million move from Manchester United.

“I’m very optimistic that Leo will play,” said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who believed Tuesday’s win over Serie A champion Inter would provide an extra boost. “(Madrid) are leaders, of course, but how would you not expect them to be after spending ?270 million?”

Barcelona’s only major injury doubt remains Yaya Toure, who has swine flu, while Madrid midfielder Jose Maria “Guti” Gutierrez is out with a leg injury.

On Saturday, Sevilla and Valencia will look to take advantage of any potential draw in Barcelona to gain ground in the standings. Sevilla plays last-place Malaga while Mallorca visits Valencia. Sporting Gijon plays Villarreal.

Madrid leads the league with 27 points, followed by Barcelona with 26, Sevilla with 25, Valencia with 24 and surprise contender Deportivo La Coruna, which plays at Racing Santander on Sunday, with 22.

Also Sunday, it’s: Valladolid vs. Tenerife; Getafe vs. Xerez; Almeria vs. Athletic Bilbao; Zaragoza vs. Osasuna; and Atletico Madrid vs. Espanyol.

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