Real look forward to coronation in Barcelona

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The Independent Online
Real Madrid will be hoping for the perfect finish to a splendid season tomorrow when they travel to meet their arch rivals, Barcelona, in a match that could take the title back to the Spanish capital.

It would be Real's first championship success since 1990, while Barcelona are in danger of ending the season out of the Uefa Cup places. Real demolished Barcelona 5-0 in the Bernabeu stadium in January and the stage is set for a Spanish classic.

Real's destiny does not rest entirely in their own hands. Their fortunes are tied to those of Deportivo La Coruna, who need a home win over Real Betis to keep alive their hopes of a first title. But if Real, six points clear of Deportivo, extend their lead by a point they will be champions for the 26th time.

Barcelona have watched Real flourish this season while their own ambitions have faded, and the idea of Real parading a championship trophy around the Nou Camp stadium is more than most Catalans can bear.

Barcelona's coach, Johan Cruyff, is expected to fall back on experience after several weeks experimenting with youth. Hristo Stoichkov, back to his best in their 1-1 draw at Betis last Sunday, will almost certainly start. The Bulgarian, sent off in January's 5-0 debacle, had been dropped by Cruyff for a fortnight prior to last weekend's match.

The Dutch international Ronald Koeman is also tipped to line up for his last Barcelona-Madrid match before returning to the Netherlands at the end of the season. Cruyff is also hoping to have Josep Guardiola back in action after three months out through injury.

For Real, Michael Laudrup returns to the Nou Camp for the first time since he switched clubs. Laudrup won four consecutive championship medals under Cruyff and has largely inspired Real's assault on Barcelona's supremacy this year.

The only injury doubt for Real's Argentinian coach, Jorge Valdano, is the defender Quique Sanchez, who has not played for six weeks. If Sanchez is passed fit he will replace Miguel Chendo, a scorer in the 1-0 win against Valladolid last Sunday.

Barcelona have recent history on their side and it is 10 years since Real won in the Nou Camp. But the balance of power has shifted from the coast to the capital with alarming speed this year. Barcelona have won one of their last 10 matches while in the same period Real have lost only twice.