Barcelona travel to Madrid on Saturday with the chance to extend their lead at the top of La Liga to 14 points. The stakes are high, not least for German stars Toni Kroos and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
All eyes will be on the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu this Saturday when the latest Clasico instalment plays out.
Barcelona have exceeded expectations this season, opening up an 11-point lead at the top of La Liga despite losing Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and seeing coach Luis Enrique quit at the end of last season.
Former Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde replaced the much-loved Enrique in the summer and has hit the ground running, tweaking Barcelona's playing style and averting the crisis many expected after the club lost Neymar. Barcelona legend, Xavi Hernandez, is impressed by what he's seen from the new man in charge.
"Valverde has made Barcelona into a functioning team,” Xavi told Madrid-based daily sport newspaper Marca. "The signings have all settled well and everything at the moment is positive, the team are solid and are well positioned to win El Clasico, and that would rule out Madrid of a title race.
"Madrid will have more confidence after their Club World Cup win but they are not playing well, not like Barcelona. Valverde has Barca playing attacking football, they press well and have a lot of possession, which I imagine will be the case at the Bernabeu too.”
In-form Ter Stegen
Barcelona may not have the same creative spark as in recent seasons and have a more pragmatic approach than one would usually associate with a team renowned for its attacking prowess. They have developed a tougher edge under Valverde, conceding only seven goals in 16 games.
Much of that is down to the impressive form of Ter Stegen, who has kept three consecutive clean sheets heading into the big one.
"After losing the Super Cup we knew that we had to work as hard as ever and all follow Valverde, who I think has started to leave his stamp on the team," Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
"He has been watching us for a long time and he knew what he needed to do to improve us. That vision has served us well, we are very good defensively and we need to keep that up, or improve it, for the rest of the season so we can stay up there."
Kroos eyeing statement win
The season has not been so straightforward for Real Madrid. Defeats by Girona and Real Betis have derailed their league campaign, and the pressure is on coach Zinedine Zidane to guide them out of their current slump.
The game will feature another German, Toni Kroos. The former Bayern Munich midfielder is a linchpin in Zidane's team, and is adamant that Madrid can turn their season around — but only a win against Barcelona will do.
"The season is long. We are 11 points and one match behind, but are still within striking distance,” Kroos told Bild. "But if we are to keep the title race open we had better win this match.”
Real Madrid vs Barcelona is on Saturday December 23 at 13.00 CET.