‘El clasico de los clasicos’ is how the Spanish describe the meeting of Barcelona and Real Madrid and there is plenty of intrigue and drama to whet the appetite ahead of their encounter at the Nou Camp on Saturday.
Attention will be focused on returning Nou Camp old boysLuis Figo and Ronaldo when Real Madrid go in search of their first Spanish league win away to Barcelona in 19 years on Saturday.
The two former Barca stars can expect a white hot reception from what promises to be a mercilessly unfriendly home crowd. For Ronaldo, still fondly remembered in the city after one goal-laden season with the club, there may be a muted response; after all, his move to Real came via a five-year spell in Italy.
For Luis Figo, however, the lingering antipathy that accompanied his switch to Real two years ago, has yet to dissipate. Hostility is guaranteed, though hopefully not on the scale of his return two seasons ago when he was pelted with missiles whenever he approached the touchline. The Portuguese midfielder missed last season’s encounter at the Nou Camp, when he picked up what some observers described as a ‘timely’ muscle injury.
As well as the return of their former idols, Barcelona fans have much to worry about at the moment. The return of coach Louis Van Gaal, who was an unpopular figure in his first spell with the club, has not brought about the hoped-for upturn in form. Domestically, they have struggled this season, lying in 10th spot, seven points adrift of leaders Real Sociedad. A defeat against their most-loathed rivals, though unlikely to hasten the departure of Van Gaal, will certainly increase the pressure on the Dutch coach.
Real, despite further lavish expenditure in the summer have been equally unconvincing in la Liga this season. Currently lying seventh in the table, which for a side that has bought Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo in successive seasons, represents something of a mini-crisis for coach Vicenntedel Bosque.
Both sides are missing key players. For Real, skipper Hierro and perhaps critically, playmaker Zidane, are out, while Barcelona will be without talismanic forward – and former Real Madrid player – Luis Enrique. Barca also have left-back Fernando Navarro missing through suspension.
When Real beat their rivals here in last season’s Champions League semi-final, they may have thought they had exorcised a few demons, but given the molten atmosphere expected to be generated in the Nou Camp, not to mention, Real’s dismal away form – no away wins in the league since March – no one would be at all surprised if those ghosts come back to haunt them.