Gerardo Martino admitted last night that Barcelona must win the Clasico at the Bernabeu this afternoon to stand any chance of retaining their La Liga title.
The Spanish champions are four points behind Real Madrid in the table and their coach believes the biggest club match in European football offers one final opportunity for his side to close the gap.
"A draw isn't a good result," said Martino. "We're convinced that we can win the Clasico. We'll do everything we can to cut the gap with Real Madrid. It's probably our last chance to win the league. There are nine games left after this one and it's clearly easier to catch up one point than four or seven. It'd be really tough to make up seven or four points – not because we're not capable of doing it but because there are very few points left to play for and teams don't tend to slip up so much at this stage of the season."
Barcelona's hopes have been lifted by the return to form of Lionel Messi after an injury-plagued season. The striker is expected to line up in attack alongside Neymar, the Brazilian forward who was man of the match in Barcelona's 2-1 victory in the previous Clasico at the Nou Camp last October.
"Messi is our star player and makes his mark in decisive matches," added Martino. "If he has a great game we know that will be good for the team.
"Neymar is one of the best five players in the world. I appreciate him and try to make him feel special – because he is."