x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Now Ronaldo must justify his expense

It is the return from injury of Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most expensive import, which could decide Spanish bragging rights.

Cristiano Ronaldo is currently the most expensive player in world football.
Cristiano Ronaldo is currently the most expensive player in world football.

Having shattered their transfer records with summer recruitment binge, some of the world's best players go head-to-head tonight when Barcelona welcome Real Madrid for the first El Clasico of the Primera Liga season. The last time Real faced the team from Catalonia, they were humbled 6-2 at the Bernabeu as Barcelona marched to a quartet of domestic and European honours. The embarrassing defeat, however, was catalyst for a change in direction at Madrid.

Former president Florentine Perez sought, and won, re-election and has resurrected the club's galacticos transfer policy. The proof of his success will be measured on the Camp Nou pitch tonight. While more reserved, Barcelona's dealings also made a statement. The most potent forward line in football was strengthened, and eight goals in 13 appearances so far is evidence of Barca manager Pep Guardiola's wisdom in signing Inter Milan's silky striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It is the return from injury of the world's most expensive import, Cristiano Ronaldo, which could well decide Spanish bragging rights. "We respect our opponents but we have no fear. It's a great team but there are no favourites," the Portuguese forward said. He will be tasked with out-performing Barcelona's seemingly endless list of attacking threats. Lionel Messi, arguably their most dangerous, orchestrated Barcelona's defeat of Ronaldo's former club Manchester United in last season's Champions League final in Rome. Revenge, however, is not on the agenda.

"The only accounts I have pending are my water and gas bills," said Ronaldo. "That's in the past. I'm at a new club with a winning mentality and we're going to try to achieve our objective. It's a normal game against a worthy opponent worth three points." In Ronaldo's absence, Real's other recruits Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema, have pushed Real to the top of the league. Barcelona sit second, one point behind.

For his part, Ibrahimovic is predicting a home win. "I'm pretty sure we will beat them," said the Swede. "It will be the game of the year, not only in Spain but worldwide." emegson@thenational.ae