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Real Madrid host Barcelona in bid to strengthen title bid

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With 11 matches to play, Real are on a high and have a LaLiga-European Cup double in their sights.



Real Madrid's Luka Modric, left, celebrates with teammate Mariano Diaz after scoring during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday.(AP)


Real will host bitter rivals Barca on Sunday with the opportunity to strengthen their hold on the title race. With 66 points from 28 games, Carlo Ancelotti's side have a 10-point advantage over second-placed Sevilla and are 15 ahead of Barca in third.

With 11 matches to play, they are on a high and have a LaLiga-European Cup double in their sights. Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema will miss Sunday's Clasico against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu after suffering a calf injury, coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed.

Benzema, LaLiga's top scorer, was absent from Real's Saturday training session in Madrid and will concentrate over the next two weeks on getting fit for next month's Champions League quarter-final matches against Chelsea.

In Benzema's absence, onus will be on senior players like Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, among others to step up.As Real Madrid prepares for the game, let's take a look at five things you may not know about Modric:

He was a refugee as a child

Modrić had a tough childhood. Growing up during the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s, he tragically lost his grandfather to the conflict and became a refugee with his family who were forced to flee their hometown. He grew up living in hotels – mostly at the Hotel Kolovare, in Zadar – and first learned to play football in the hotel parking lots.   

Barcelona came calling in 2008

Today it would be hard to imagine Modrić playing for FC Barcelona, but back in 2008 he was heavily linked with the Catalan giants. He even gave an interview to Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo in which he spoke of how he’d love to play for Barça, even posing with the club’s jersey. However, Modrić went on to leave Dinamo Zagreb for Tottenham that summer of 2008, eventually joining Real Madrid in 2012. Two LaLiga Santander titles and four Champions Leagues later, he’s still bossing the midfield at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. 

His first Real Madrid appearance ended with a trophy

Few debuts are as successful as Modrić’s Real Madrid debut. After arriving from Tottenham late in the 2012 summer transfer window, the midfielder came on for his debut in the Spanish Super Cup second leg against Barcelona at the Bernabéu. With the aggregate score tied at 4-4 when he came on for Mesut Özil in the second half, he controlled the midfield for the remainder of the game to see out tie and hand Real Madrid the season-opening trophy. Not a bad first game! 

He was bizarrely voted the worst signing of 2012

Despite winning a trophy in his first match with Real Madrid, Modrić endured a tricky start to life at the capital city club. Halfway through the 2012/13 season, he was even voted as the worst LaLiga Santander signing of the 2012 summer transfer window, harshly given that he had missed almost all of pre-season. Since then, however, he has cemented his reputation as one of world football’s greatest players and has proved his doubters wrong many times over, winning trophy after trophy and the 2018 Ballon d’Or. 

He played more minutes than any other player at the 2018 World Cup

The 2018 World Cup was one of the defining and most memorable tournaments of his career. Three summers ago, he led Croatia to an unprecedented final appearance against France and won the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. With all three of Croatia’s knockout matches going to extra-time (vs Denmark, Russia, and England) and Modrić always on the pitch, he racked up 694 minutes on the pitch during the tournament, more than any other player.  

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