After months of anxious waiting, Luis Suarez’s moment has finally arrived. Following his €85 million (Dh442m) summer move from Liverpool, the controversial Uruguayan will relish the opportunity to pull on a Barcelona shirt in earnest for the very first time, and be absolutely desperate to make up for three lost months by playing a starring role.
However, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi also getting in on the action, Suarez’s desire to make a dramatic debut entrance faces serious opposition from the biggest party-poopers in planet football.
Ronaldo’s current run of form is simply outrageous – almost beyond belief. The Portuguese star’s sublime strike in Wednesday’s Champions League romp at Liverpool means that he has now scored in each of his 10 Madrid appearances since the season curtain-raiser Super Cup loss to Atletico Madrid.
More astoundingly, he has registered 18 goals in that period – averaging nearly two per game – and has recorded three hat-tricks to take himself level with Alfredo Di Stefano and Telmo Zarra for the most trebles (22) in La Liga history.
Zarra’s name pops up again in relation to Messi, of course, with the Argentine now on 250 career goals in La Liga and just one behind equalling the Athletic Bilbao legend’s all-time record.
Messi, although in slightly less spectacular fashion than Ronaldo, has also enjoyed an excellent start to the campaign, with the physical problems that dogged him throughout last season appearing to be behind him.
In addition to scoring a more than respectable tally of nine goals, Messi has also developed his all-round effectiveness by becoming far more generous with his teammates, being credited with nine assists and generally looking just as happy to play a pass as attempting to score.
Whether this is due to the influence of new boss Luis Enrique, a conscious mental decision on Messi’s part or just a short-term aberration remains to be seen, but it has added a new dimension to Barca’s attacking play so far this season.
And speaking of new dimensions… here comes Luis Suarez. But how?
The Uruguayan has always been earmarked for a place on the right-hand side of Barca’s three-man frontline, and his chances of starting at the Bernabeu tonight are significantly enhanced by Pedro’s lack of form and the youthful inexperience of Sandro and Munir El Haddadi.
Although Suarez has benefitted from one friendly outing with Barca’s B team and a couple of appearances with his national team, nobody really knows whether he has the necessary physical sharpness to perform well in the intense environment of El Clasico.
It is a major decision for Enrique with perfectly valid arguments for either starting Suarez or introducing him from the bench, but either way the Uruguayan should receive at least half an hour.
So, the stage is set for Ronaldo to break the hat-trick record to give Madrid a 3-0 lead, Barca to fight back with a brace from Messi to set the new La Liga scoring record, and then Suarez to pop up and steal the headlines with an injury time debut equaliser.
It sounds far-fetched, but with these players on the same pitch at the same time, anything is possible.
And that’s without even mentioning Neymar, James Rodriguez, Andres Iniesta, Toni Kroos, Ivan Rakitic… make no mistake, anything can happen in this Clasico and there’s only one (near) certainty: it won’t be 0-0.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has confirmed that Luis Suarez will make his long-awaited debut for the club in Saturday's first El Clasico of the season away to Real Madrid.
Suarez has been restricted to friendly matches since sealing a move from Liverpool after receiving a four-month ban for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.
"He will have some minutes for sure," Enrique told a press conference on Thursday. "How many I cannot say, that is the million dollar question. It is an important occasion for him to be able to join in with the group."
However, Real boss Carlo Ancelotti insisted he would be making no special plans for the Uruguayan despite recognising his presence as a big boost for La Liga as a whole.
"I am not here to judge Luis Suarez. He has scored a lot of goals, but it doesn't change our tactics," said the Italian.
"I think for football it is good news that Suarez can play in this league. I don't know if he will play (tomorrow) because it is not my business.
"It is not my problem. Naturally I have a lot of respect for Suarez's quality, but if Suarez plays or not doesn't change their idea of how to play the game and doesn't change ours either."
Suarez's questionable temperament is likely to be tested by the red hot atmosphere at the Bernabeu. As well as his latest bite on Chiellini, the 27-year-old recievied lengthy suspensions for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic last year and Otman Bakkal of PSV Eindhoven whilst playing for Ajax.
Meanwhile, he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a match between Liverpool and Manchester United in 2011.
However, Enrique insisted that he wasn't concerned that Suarez's temperament could be tested by the pressure of making his bow in the biggest game in world football.
"Clasicos have to be heated, enjoyable and the best show possible for the fans, but staying within the sporting parameters."
Whilst Suarez's availability adds to Barca's attacking arsenal alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar, Real Madrid will be without one of their key men in Gareth Bale due to injury. And Enrique echoed the words of his Madrid counterpart Carlo Ancelotti in saying the Welshman's absence wouldn't affect his side's preparation for the game.
"Independent of who is in Ancelotti's starting line-up, we will maintain our philosophy. It is obvious that both sides will continue to play in their own different ways."
Other than the debate over whether Suarez will start or make his debut as a substitute, the only other doubt in the Barca team surrounds midfielder Sergio Busquets.
The Spanish international missed Barca's 3-1 win over Ajax in midweek due to a hip injury, but Enrique is confident he will be fit to take his place in the side at the Bernabeu.
"Busquets is fine, he has trained with the rest of the group and in principle can play without any problems."
UEFA’s disciplinary committee on Friday awarded Serbia a 3-0 victory in their aborted Euro 2016 qualification match with Albania, but deducted them three points. Albania’s football federation responded by saying they would appeal the decision.
The match in Belgrade was halted on October 14 after home fans invaded the pitch and attacked Albania players after a pro-Albanian flag was carried over the stadium by a drone.
The match was goalless when it was abandoned in the 41st minute as Albania players fled to the changing rooms as irrate fans invaded the pitch. The provocative flag included a map of ‘Greater Albania’ incorporating parts of Serbia.
Albania allegedly refused to continue playing as Serbian fans chanted “Death to Albanians” and “Kill Albanians”.
“The UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body (CEDB) met yesterday and announced the following decision after various incidents that occurred during the European Qualifier Group I match between Serbia and Albania, which was played in Belgrade on 14 October,” said a UEFA media release.
BREAKING: Serbia reportedly given a 3-0 win over Albania, but have the three points deducted. Both FAs fined €100,000. More to follow…
— Sport360° (@Sport_360) October 24, 2014
“The CEDB has decided to declare the above-mentioned match as forfeited. As a consequence, the Football Association of Albania (FShF) is deemed to have lost the match 3-0. In addition, the FShF has been fined 100,000 euros.
“The CEDB has also decided to deduct the Football Association of Serbia (FSS) three points for the current UEFA European Championship qualifying competition, In addition, the FSS has been ordered to play its next two UEFA competition matches as host team behind closed doors. Finally, the association has been fined 100,000 euros.”
Albania’s federation immediately revealed they would appeal.
“The UEFA commission’s decision does not give justice. We cannot accept losing as all the facts are in our favour,” blasted Albania’s Italian coach Gianni De Biasi. “The three points belong to Albania and they’ve taken away from us what we’ve deserved.”
Albania claimed their team bus was pelted with stones before the match while concrete, coins and cigarette lighters were amongst objects hurled at the players during the match. They also claim that they did not refuse to continue playing but that it was impossible to do so because of the atmosphere in the stadium.