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Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Saturday, 28 November 2009

The dawn of El Derbi

Barcelona v Real Madrid, La Liga
Venue: Camp Nou, Spain Date: Sunday 29 November Kick-off: 1800 GMT
Coverage: Live on Sky Sports One, live text commentary on BBC Sport website with Chris Bevan and follow Jonathan Stevenson in Barcelona on Twitter

Lionel Messi, Barcelona and Real Madrid fans, Cristiano Ronaldo
Arguably the two best footballers in the world will meet in El Clasico on Sunday

By Jonathan Stevenson
BBC Sport in Barcelona

The Saturday before a "clasico" in Barcelona is like Christmas Eve. And it's not just the kids who are getting overly excited.

The first meeting of the season between Barca and their arch-rivals Real Madrid takes place at the magnificently imposing Camp Nou on Sunday and the city has been almost entirely consumed by the affair for days.

'El Derbi' dominated conversations on my flight; on the train the Catalans were poring over the latest sensational headlines from the writers having a week of field days; and walking around the city, there's a different bit of Barca merchandise on show everywhere you look.

If you don't like football, it's the worst place on earth to be.

In a contest that is usually something quite out of the ordinary, you feel this one is even just a little bit more special, especially now the game's two stellar attractions - Real's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca's Lionel Messi - are set to win their injury battles in time to feature.

Real are the history club, not just of Spain but of an entire continent, yet they have been reduced to casting envious glances towards Catalonia in the past 12 months as Barca swept everything before them.

It will be an occasion unlike no other, a mouth-watering spectacle that will attract an audience from every nation on earth

No-one around here needs to be told their team are the reigning Champions League, La Liga, European Super Cup and Spanish Cup holders.

In the summer, chastened by Barca's historic treble - a feat Real have never achieved - president Florentino Perez, starting his second spell in charge at the Bernabeu, decided there was only one way to mount a challenge: Spend, spend, spend.

In came £80m Ronaldo, £56m Kaka, £35 Karim Benzema and £30m Xabi Alonso in the most astonishing transfer raid football has ever witnessed.

So far, it is working. Real have not clicked into gear just yet and suffered an embarrassing Cup defeat at the hands of tiny Alcorcon, but they are a point ahead of Barca in the league and already through to the last 16 in Europe, while Barca's fate will not be decided until the last round of group games.

Ronaldo had spent the last six weeks out injured until coming on in the Champions League in midweek but coach Manuel Pellegrini may hand him a shock start as Real seek revenge for their 6-2 mauling at the hands of Barca in the Bernabeu in May.

Real legend Michel Salgado, who spent 10 years playing for Los Merengues, believes that with time they will be able to mount a serious challenge to Barcelona.

"There is a crucial difference between the two teams," Salgado told BBC Sport. "Barcelona is a team that is made, whereas Real are a new team and they need time to learn the ideas of the coach.

Michel Salgado
As a Spanish man and a Spanish footballer, this is the ultimate

Michel Salgado

"Barca won three big titles last year and were the best team, but now it is time for the Real players to show the fans they can revisit past glories.

"There is pressure, because they have spent a lot of money. But if you are going to sign for Real Madrid, you have to be aware of this. You have to know that you are going to work and you are going to play in the best team in the world, with the most pressure, which is not easy to work with.

"But I think if they trust in the team, they are great players, and I think they only need time."

If history tells us anything, it is that time is something that is in short supply in the Spanish capital.

Perez, after all, is the man who let current Spain coach Vicente del Bosque leave 48 hours after winning La Liga in 2003 and after a four-year incumbency that saw Real win the league twice, the Champions League twice, one European Super Cup and one World Club Cup.

But victory over Barcelona in the Camp Nou on Sunday would begin to justify Perez's astronomical outlay and would force the world to sit up and take notice of his Galacticos Part II project.

Never before will such an expensive group of professional footballers have taken to the field at the same time and heaven only knows how much the likes of Barca's Xavi, Andres Iniesta - who signed a one-year contract extension on Friday - and Lionel Messi and Real pair Iker Casillas and Raul would have fetched had they ever considered leaving.

It will be an occasion unlike no other, a mouth-watering spectacle that will attract an audience from every nation on earth. One can only hope this edition of El Clasico lives up to some of Salgado's most cherished memories.

It's a game between two teams that are defending nearly half of Spain and you know when you are playing in El Clasico.

Michael Salgado

"As a Spanish man and a Spanish footballer, this is the ultimate," Salgado added. "It's a game between two teams that are defending nearly half of Spain and you know when you are playing in El Clasico.

"The first leg of the Champions League semi-finals in 2002 was very memorable for me, when we beat Barcelona 2-0 at the Camp Nou on the special day of Sant Jordi.

"But the day I will always remember was - I think it was his first return - when Luis Figo came back to the Camp Nou, wearing the shirt of Real Madrid after leaving them to sign for us.

"I was close to him, near the corner flag, and when I saw the head of a pig coming onto the pitch, as well as a bottle of whiskey and a knife, it was unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it before in my life."

The countdown is almost over. Do not dare miss the unmissable.



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see also
Legends relive El Clasico memories
26 Nov 09 |  Europe
Swapping Barca for the Bernabeu
27 Nov 09 |  Europe
Superb Barca destroy rivals Real
02 May 09 |  Europe


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