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El Clasico preview: Familiar heroes absent from rivalry

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid CF - La Liga

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 02: Jordi Alba of FC Barcelona battles for the ball with Gareth Bale of Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on April 2, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

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El Clasico existed before Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, and Cristiano Ronaldo, and it will exist long after it.

Still, Sunday’s edition is going to be weird.

Four gigantic names are gone from the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry, albeit Messi’s absence is temporary, which resumes this weekend at the Camp Nou.

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Messi and Ronaldo have scored the most and third-most goals in El Clasico history, while Messi has delivered the most assists. Messi’s 38 appearances are third-most, tied with Iniesta and Sergio Ramos.

That last name will be there on Sunday, as will Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez, and Casemiro. So it won’t be a new generation of challengers.

Discounting friendlies between the two, the rivalry remains tight. Real has won 95 of 237 derbies, losing 92 and drawing 50.

Barcelona leads the table, tied on points with Catalan rivals Espanyol and four points clear of Real.

The visitors’ manager, Julen Lopetegui, has found no reprieve from his attack’s struggles following a slim 2-1 defeat of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.

Lopetegui, 52, has has one point from his last four La Liga matches, and lost at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.

That has his seat considerably warm, especially with Real president Florentino Perez seemingly fond of switching things up. But his players reportedly very much have his back, a Marca report claiming, “Few times in Real Madrid’s history have the key members of the squad been so publicly in favor of a coach under pressure.”

The times number just as few when Real will have a such a good chance to strike success in an away El Clasico.

Follow @NicholasMendola