Sunday cover: Barcelona v Real Madrid and Liverpool v Manchester United make for a striking evening

The National's Sport cover for the Sunday, March 22 issue, featuring a look at the two big matches on the day – Barcelona v Real Madrid and Liverpool v Manchester United.

The National’s Sport cover for the Sunday, March 22 issue, featuring a look at two very big matches on the day, Real Madrid and Barcelona’s el clasico as well as Liverpool v Manchester United at Anfield.

Breaking down el clasico first, Andy Mitten chronicles the strangely divergent seasons of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo so far, with one having started cold and coming off a down year before turning it on the past few months and the other coming off a European Cup run, Ballon d’Or and blazing end to 2014 before recently cooling off.

“Messi is the man of the moment, but it is only three months since Ronaldo enjoyed the same status as Madrid were crowned world champions in Morocco,” Mitten wrote.

“Football is cynical and cyclical. Fans talk of the status quo like it is the way it is always going to be, but it isn’t.

“If any good has come from Messi and Ronaldo hitting rough patches in the last year, it is that respect between the two has increased and they now readily compliment each other in public.

“They are the only two people who can relate to their own circumstances, where they have set the bar so high that criticism begins whenever they fail to reach their own stellar standards.”

Mitten also lays out his other keys to Madrid and Barca’s battle, including the contest in the middle that will play out between Ivan Rakitic and Toni Kroos.

In the Premier League, meanwhile, Richard Jolly and Jonathan Wilson each make their argument for who could be the pivotal player as Liverpool and United jockey for top-four positioning.

Jolly makes the argument that the innovative Brendan Rodgers should boldly demote Daniel Sturridge and put Raheem Sterling up front.

“It is time for Rodgers, so unorthodox so often, to think the unthinkable and to demote Sturridge.

“The team is best served by selecting Sterling as a striker ... the initial choice of Sterling as a striker, which seemed to be made in desperation, provided evidence of inspiration. Young, quick and mobile, the Englishman has personified Liverpool’s recovery during the past three months.”

On the Man United end, Wilson says Marouane Fellaini’s awkward individuality presents a match-up problem for the Anfield hosts.

“What makes Fellaini so difficult to combat is the nature of the threat he poses. He is big, awkward and physical, but what often looked like clumsiness when he played deep last season has been re-purposed by Louis van Gaal as a physical attacking threat.”

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Published: March 22, 2015 04:00 AM

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