The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to watch out for in the upcoming match between Barcelona and Real Madrid on Sunday.

The international break is nearly here, and club football will halt for the first time since the World Cup ended in December. But before we go into the dreaded fortnight, one of the biggest games of the season will potentially enthral fans across the world, with Barcelona and Real Madrid meeting at Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday night.

Barcelona will come into the fourth El Clasico of the 2022/23 season with the upper hand in the title race in La Liga. The Catalan giants continue to make solid progress under the tutelage of Xavi Hernandez. And they have blown away most teams thus far this term, with Real Madrid being one of only two teams to beat them.

On the other hand, Real Madrid seemed to be running away with the league again in the first few weeks. The Merengues were the early pacesetters and stamped their authority by beating Barcelona 3-1 in the reverse fixture. But they have lost their way since then, especially since the campaign resumed. And the reigning champions sit nine points behind the Blaugrana.

Real Madrid will know that they need to grab all three points on Sunday to retain hopes of defending the title. On the other hand, Barcelona can practically seal the deal if they clinch a third victory over Los Blancos on Sunday. And with the tie setting up intriguingly, The Hard Tackle looks at three players who can singlehandedly change the game.

Frenkie de Jong

The first player on the list has added responsibility this weekend due to the continued absence of Pedri. With the young Spaniard failing to regain fitness, Frenkie de Jong will have more creative burden on him. So he gets out feature underway.

The Dutchman has hustled hard to earn Xavi Hernandez’s trust this season. It is easy to forget that Barcelona had been keen on selling him a few months ago when Chelsea and Manchester United came calling last summer. But de Jong stuck to his guns and rejected the Premier League giants.

Chelsea and Manchester United remain keen on signing the 25-year-old. But all the speculation is in the background for the player, who continues to rise in stature at Camp Nou. And he has the key to unlocking the Real Madrid defence, especially with the visitors having a soft underbelly.

The Dutch midfielder is an elite ball carrier and will push Barcelona forward efficiently. At the same time, de Jong has improved his defensive output. So also has the goods to help out off the ball and thwart Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Eduardo Camavinga

The next name on the list comes in the form of a player who has been transforming his fortunes in a makeshift role. While he is primarily a midfielder, he has reinvented himself as a left-back. And irrespective of where he features on Sunday, Eduardo Camavinga will be a pivotal figure.

If the Frenchman starts in the middle of the park, he can help Real Madrid contain a creative force like Frenkie de Jong. And in doing so, the youngster can potentially block Barcelona’s biggest source of creativity on Sunday.

Alternatively, if the 20-year-old lines up as a left-back, he can stop another creative outlet for the hosts. And instead of de Jong, Camavinga will be responsible for keeping Raphinha quiet. Either way, a big game beckons the former Rennes midfielder, whose defensive acumen has improved this season.

Camavinga, another midfielder on Manchester United’s radar, will also look to use his ball-carrying ability to good effect. The French international has the ability to push the buttons when required. And if that quality in his game shines, Real Madrid might be in a handy position to grab the three points.

Eder Militao

The match will feature a battle between two of the best strikers in the world. Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema will be the star attractions for both teams on Sunday. So the four centre-backs will have the uphill task of keeping them quiet. And the last name on our list features one of those players, Eder Militao.

The Brazilian international had to bide his time after joining Real Madrid. With Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane still at the club back then, Militao did not immediately become the first-choice centre-back. But he has not looked back since the duo departed from the Santiago Bernabeu.

The 25-year-old has steadily risen in stature to become one of La Liga’s finest defenders. Carlo Ancelotti has also gone a step ahead and anointed him the best centre-back in the world. And amid high praise from the Real Madrid boss, Militao will look to vindicate his manager against Barcelona.

The former FC Porto defender reads the game well, a quality that has to shine for him to thwart Lewandowski. And if Militao rises to the occasion on that front, it will job half done for Real Madrid on Sunday.

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