San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Keylor Navas

Keylor Navas expected to play in Saturday's 'El Clásico' against Barcelona

In Real Madrid’s biggest game of the season, the goalkeeper who has been the club’s most valuable player is expected to make a triumphant return.

According to team reports, Costa Rican goalie Keylor Navas practiced with Madrid on Wednesday for the first time all week in anticipation for Saturday’s “El Clásico,” the historic rivalry between La Liga’s two best clubs, Madrid and Barcelona. Navas, who would be making his debut in the rivalry with a start, is still bothered by a nagging strain in the abductor muscle of his right leg that kept him out of the national team’s two World Cup qualifying wins.

Barcelona took over the top spot in La Liga rankings last week after former No. 1 Real Madrid lost its first game of the season, a 3-2 defeat at Sevilla where Navas sat out and was replaced by a much less effective Kiko Casilla in goal. Navas remains undefeated as a starter this season with a 10-3-0 overall record, which include 10 shutouts.

The 28-year-old has not played since the Nov. 3 Champion’s League win against Paris St. Germain, where he was in obvious pain and couldn’t generate enough power in his right leg to make routine kickoffs from the goalie box. Still, Navas managed to keep a clean sheet – thanks to some timely saves and a good amount of luck – against a Paris squad that has one of the world’s most star-studded attacks.

And if Navas is back in the Real Madrid lineup in time for Saturday’s epic showdown against La Liga’s top team, it’s going to require another monumental effort by Navas to keep Barça’s frontline off the board. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, is expected to return to the pitch after being sidelined for nearly two months with a left knee sprain. Whether he starts or begins on the bench for manager Luis Enrique’s team remains up in the air, but it means that Barcelona’s three-headed monster of Messi, Neymar, and Luís Suarez will be fully intact against its biggest rival.

Noted Spanish football magazines like Marca and AS have reported recently that Real Madrid authorities are optimistic that Navas will be able to play against that fearsome Barcelona attack on Saturday in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. A Marca report from Wednesday said team doctors have given the goalie the green light to play.

In the two games that the Costa Rican star has been out, Real Madrid has allowed more goals (4) in those matches than Navas has allowed (3) all season.

Contact Michael Krumholtz at mkrumholtz@ticotimes.net

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Mike Davies

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