BBC vs MSN as Clasico looms

The pair of initialled attacking tridents will do battle at Camp Nou on Saturday with BBC - Bale, Benzema, Cristiano - having much more to prove than MSN - Messi, Suarez, Neymar.

When Lionel Messi was handed a fifth Ballon d'Or in January, it was perhaps indicative of Barcelona and Real Madrid's recent fortunes that much talk centred on whether Cristiano Ronaldo ought to have been replaced on the podium by Luis Suarez - making it an all Camp Nou top three along with Neymar.

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You would have been hard pressed to find anyone not of a strong Bernabeu persuasion claiming that Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema should have been in the reckoning. The pair of initialled attacking tridents will do battle at Camp Nou on Saturday with BBC - Bale, Benzema, Cristiano - having much more to prove than MSN - Messi, Suarez, Neymar.

Barca is once again running away with La Liga, 10 points clear of Madrid, who is third and has Zinedine Zidane getting to grips with his first set of coaching ropes after Rafa Benitez's doomed-from-the-off, seven-month reign.

No player in La Liga this season has had a hand in more goals than each of the world-class sextet - ranging from Suarez's 38 (26 goals, 12 assists) to Benzema's 23 (20 goals, 3 assists). That the Frenchman and Bale (15 goals and nine assists) even compare having played just 21 and 18 games in the league respectively this season is remarkable.

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Stranded on Los Blancos' pedestal, Ronaldo took aim at the remaining supporting cast after February's defeat to Atletico Madrid left Real with no realistic chance of winning the title.

He said: "I don't want to disrespect anyone, but when the best players aren't available it's harder to win. I like to play with Karim, with Bale, with Marcelo. I'm not saying the others like Lucas [Vazquez], Jese and [Mateo] Kovacic are not good players - they are very good players - but it's not the same."

Ronaldo later claimed his intention had only been to point out the misfortune of having Benzema and Bale unavailable. The Portugal captain's point may have been a valid one. Madrid average a whopping 3.7 goals per game when the BBC are together, which crashes to 2.4 per game when they are split up.

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Benzema returned to the side in its last game before the international break, while Bale only returned from injury two games earlier, and all three scored in the 4-0 win over Sevilla. It was the fourth time this season all three had scored in a game for Madrid. Barca's front three have also all joined each other on the scoresheet in four outings this term.

Perhaps unlike their rivals, MSN have proven they can be more than the sum of their parts. Neymar and Suarez stepped up in Messi's absence earlier this term, scoring all 14 of Barca's goals in a five-game spell missed by the Argentine due to a knee injury.

The three have all had their say in Clasicos past - Messi is the fixture's record goalscorer with 14 in 19 games, while Neymar (three in five games) and Suarez (three in three) have hit the ground running. Ronaldo (seven in 13) and Benzema (five in 13) have passable goal records in the fixture - Bale does not.

Of course, the world's most expensive player did win a Copa del Rey final - that Ronaldo did not play in - between the sides with a ludicrous show of pace, power and poise in 2014, but his record in league clashes between the two great rivals reads: Played four, won none, lost four, scored none, assisted none.

Bale has almost contributed as many goals in this injury-interrupted campaign as he managed in a comparatively full 2014-15 season and spoke this week of his happiness in his upturn in form.

"Last season I didn't play to anywhere near to my potential," Bale said on Wednesday. "It was important for me to keep working hard, to keep fighting. It is difficult playing in a foreign country. I've felt more settled, more involved in the team this year and I think that has shown in performances on the pitch."

Bale added in the news conference "our mission is to make the fans happy". With Madrid hitting rock bottom in what is destined to be a trophyless season, now - maybe more than ever - is high time to deliver on that vow.

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