You're probably well aware of this already, but El Clásico is bearing down on us all once again. Like a terrible army of dementors, it is preparing to suck your spirit from your face and leave you slack-jawed and lifeless. A husk where once there was vibrant thought. An empty shell where once there was exuberant analysis. There were four in a row late last season and they effectively wiped out this writer's sanity for nearly three months and, if the tabloid headlines are to be believed, left most of Spain in rubble.
• Real blog: Madrid starting XI for El Clasico
Now it has returned and while the game itself should be thrilling given the number of stars on hand and the way the teams are playing, it will also bring about a maelstrom of journalistic and fan-based frothing at the mouth. There's nothing quite like a full-fledged international freak out whenever a referee makes a mistake or, indeed, when he does nothing wrong. There's been eye-poking, red cards, and more bluster than parliament.
The first of the two in this season’s La Liga takes place on Saturday in Madrid and the winner will run out with both the joy of beating a major rival as well as the more important points in the table. With the league seemingly balanced on the outcome of this match - Madrid lead by three points with a game in hand - losing is pretty much out of the question for Barcelona if they want to stay in this league race.
It’s also the best defence (Barça) against the best attack (Madrid), but Madrid haven’t failed to win since their goalless draw against Racing Santander on September 21, a run of ten matches. At home, they’re even better, with six wins in six matches. Relatively speaking, Barça have struggled away, coming up with just two wins in six matches. The team has also conceded all seven of their goals away from the Camp Nou. Were this match in Barcelona, there would be a wildly different approach given the fortress Guardiola has made the stadium.
But statistics are rarely important going into these matches. Form goes out the window and often so do cool heads: the last five matches between the two clubs produced 43 cards, five of them red. Barça’s only red card came from a sideline tiff at the Bernabeu in which backup goalie Jose Manuel Pinto was sent off for fighting. That 2-0 Champions League semi-final first leg win for Barcelona was further marred by several unsightly tackles and the general mayhem of an overhyped match.
This year started off with two Clásicos that wound up being goalfests and included Jose Mourinho eye gouging Barça assistant Tito Vilanova. Those matches notched up a further 17 cards, including three reds at the very end of the second leg when fighting broke out thanks to a nasty Marcelo challenge on Cesc Fabregas. Will this match be of the same timbre? Both teams are capable of dazzling football, but will they both come out to play? Regardless, your patronus charm needs to be at the ready for when El Clásico comes swooping in. Mine looks like Lionel Messi, I’m pretty sure.