The upcoming El Clasico at the Camp Nou brings together many of the world football’s biggest names, including undisputed household names such as Barcelona captain Lionel Messi and Real Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos.
But recent years have seen less high-profile players on both sides make decisive contributions in world football’s most high-profile game, including Aleix Vidal, Casemiro, Pepe and Jeremy Mathieu.
So, who are some of the less well-known figures who could step up into the spotlight in Sunday’s game at the Camp Nou?
Mariano Diaz [Real Madrid]
Real Madrid’s young striker Mariano Diaz has seen just seven minutes of El Clasico action so far in his career, when he entered as a substitute and helped his team to a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou in December 2016.
Having spent last season with Ligue 1 side Lyon, Mariano is now back at the Bernabeu and pressuring coach Julen Lopetegui for a starting spot, especially with regular number nine Karim Benzema an injury doubt for Sunday’s game.
An El Clasico goal would be extra special for Mariano, born in the Catalan town of Premia de Mar, just 30 kilometres from the Camp Nou, and who spent time at Barça’s city rivals Espanyol as a teenager.
Arthur Melo [Barcelona]
Sunday should give Barca’s new Brazilian playmaker Arthur Melo a chance to showcase his talents to a huge global audience.
Arthur has been eased gradually into LaLiga action by Blaugrana coach Ernesto Valverde since joining Barcelona from Brazilian side Gremio last summer. Recent weeks have seen him provide a clever assist against Alaves and stand up to the pressure impressively at Valencia’s imposing Mestalla stadium.
The 20-year-old is already being compared to iconic Camp Nou heroes Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, who both scored vital goals against Real Madrid during their careers. A first LaLiga goal in his debut El Clasico would be another huge step forward for the talented youngster.
Dani Ceballos [Real Madrid]
Midfielder Dani Ceballos looks set to be an El Clasico debutant on for Real Madrid, building on what has been an excellent start to the 2018/19 campaign for the Andalusian. The 22-year-old has played in his first LaLiga ‘derbi’ against Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu and won his first senior cap for the Spanish national side.
Although Ceballos did not win any of four games against Barcelona while at former club Real Betis, he scored a spectacular long ranger in a 2-1 LaLiga 1l2l3 clash victory at Barcelona B’s Mini Estadi in 2015. Something similar on Sunday at the Camp Nou would be huge for both Ceballos and his under-fire team.
Nacho Fernandez [Real Madrid]
Homegrown defender Nacho Fernandez has played over 100 LaLiga games for Madrid, but has just three El Clasicos on his CV to date. A fourth looks likely now, though, with first choice right-back Dani Carvajal currently sidelined through injury.
Nacho has shown ambition and creativity when raiding forward from full-back on occasion, with six goals and four assists in LaLiga over his career, as well as big strikes in the Champions League against Paris Saint Germain and the 2018 World Cup for Spain against Portugal. This could be an excellent time for this Madrid-native’s first-ever El Clasico goal.
Clement Lenglet [Barcelona]
Another set for an El Clasico debut on Sunday is new Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet, who has settled quickly at the Camp Nou following his summer arrival from Sevilla; his athleticism across the ground and composure on the ball are already clearly in evidence.
Lenglet knows what it’s like to beat Real Madrid in LaLiga, having played a key role in former club Sevilla’s 3-2 victory last season. The 23-year-old also suffered a couple of heavy defeats against Los Blancos during his time in Andalusia, so is fully aware of the challenges of facing Gareth Bale and company.
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