Football: Neymar to sit out of 'Clasico'

Brazilian forward Neymar is in the midst of a three-game suspension following Barcelona's match against Malaga two weeks ago.
Brazilian forward Neymar is in the midst of a three-game suspension following Barcelona's match against Malaga two weeks ago. PHOTO: REUTERS

Madrid (AFP) - Barcelona will not call up star forward Neymar for the potential title decider with Real Madrid, the reigning LaLiga champions said on Sunday, just hours before 'El Clasico'.

"Given the legal uncertainty of the lack of a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAD) with the game tonight less than 12 hours away, and to focus all attention on the sporting aspect, the club has decided not to call up Neymar," a Barcelona statement said.

Barcelona appealed to Spain's TAD late on Friday over Brazilian forward Neymar's three-game suspension in the hope it would be frozen, which would have allowed him to take part in Sunday's must-win showdown at Real.

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique says his last 'Clasico' in charge is a must-win for the reigning LaLiga champions.

Madrid hold a three-point lead at the top with a game in hand on their rivals as they close in on a first LaLiga title in five years.

"Given how close it is to the end of the season, it is a decisive weekend," said Enrique.

"This time a 'Clasico' can decide or almost decide the league or leave it very open. For us, it is like a final, only a win will do."

Madrid could be boosted by the return of Gareth Bale from injury, but the fact the Welshman may not be risked is a further sign that Real have far more room for error.

Bale has been sidelined by an inflammation of the muscles around where he suffered ligament damage in his right ankle that kept him out for three months earlier in the season.

"He will be with us on Sunday," said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane. "You will see tomorrow what team we are going to start with."

Should Bale not start, the on-form Isco is favourite to take his place, as he did for Madrid's thrilling 4-2 Champions League win over Bayern Munich after extra-time in midweek.

Centre-backs Raphael Varane and Pepe are Madrid's only injury absentees meaning Zidane is expected to name the same starting XI as against Bayern.

"It is another important game. There is a lot of tiredness, but also a lot of excitement and desire to keep doing what we are doing," added the Frenchman.

Only victory will salvage Barca's season just four days after crashing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage to Juventus.

However, Enrique called on his players to embrace that challenge as an extra stimulus, rather than be cowered by the pressure at the Bernabeu.

"For some, it means it is a very attractive challenge and for others it means pressure," he said.

"I prefer to take it as an attractive and marvellous challenge. It's a chance to move level on points with Madrid."