Lionel Messi is the man who represents the only difference in quality between Barcelona and Real Madrid, says former midfielder Luis Milla.
The two sides are gearing up for back-to-back Clasicos this week as they meet for the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final, in which they are tied at 1-1, on Wednesday and then in La Liga on Saturday.
Madrid have won eight of their last 10 games in all competitions as they appear to have regained consistency following early-season struggles in the wake of their former star Cristiano Ronaldo’s summer move to Juventus and the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui.
And while Messi-led Barca have a comfortable lead at the top of La Liga, they have drawn four and lost one of their last 10 in all competitions.
But Milla believes that while there are no favourites heading into the clash, Barca’s top scorer is the biggest difference between the two sides.
“I don’t think there’s a favourite, even if one side comes into it in better form than the other,” Milla, who represented both clubs, told Goal.
“The only substantial difference that I see between both teams is Messi, but they are generally games without favourites.
“The home sides might have a slight advantage because of their fans, but I don’t see a clear favourite. Madrid are under a lot of pressure so you don’t know what will happen.
“Madrid looked good at Camp Nou and the Wanda Metropolitano [against Atletico Madrid] but then they started to instil doubt. Maybe they were thinking about the Clasicos and other things to come. They might not have paid enough attention in the games against Girona and Levante.
“The good thing about Barcelona is Messi, he can unbalance anyone, and Gerard Pique and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are performing at a great level. Still, there’s a feeling that both teams have to improve collectively if they want to win the Champions League – neither of them have a chance if they don’t.”
Madrid will be looking to their own top scorer, Karim Benzema, to make the difference against their rivals. The Frenchman has scored 20 goals in 40 games this season and Milla believes he is thriving because of Ronaldo’s absence.
“If he’s not in his best moment then it’s one of the best,” he said. “You can tell he’s no longer carrying the weight of having Cristiano Ronaldo next to him. Madrid played at the expense of Ronaldo’s game. There was less build-up for Benzema to be part of.
“We are seeing some of Benzema’s best football, he looks comfortable. He looks to support the midfield and make connections, as demonstrated before Levante, when we saw him dropping deeper because the team were not comfortable with the ball.
“His way of playing has been useful since Ronaldo has gone. He wants to be prominent and he’s thriving.”