It’s Monday morning, it’s the fierce culmination in a long, lost weekend punctuated by alcohol, carbohydrates, gravy, and sports, and we still have one pungent dose of methamphetamine to force down before we can consider this glorious run as being complete.
It’s El Clasico, the match that conjures dreams and nightmares in Madrid and Barcelona, the head-to-head that has for a while carried La Liga aspirations on its broad, tattooed shoulder, and the game that restores and robs our faith in soccer all in a 90-minute span.
So what’s doing for this latest installment? You know, besides the obvious reason to duck out of work early.
1. This might be the last derby with so many stars
Friends of ours are reading the tea leaves and seeing that the UEFA guidelines are on the horizon, soon to chafe any budding oligarch looking to dump a cool billion in loan notes on a club in exchange for immediate, ill-gotten glory.
These Spanish giants have been riding the waves of cool, anonymous banking benefactors for a while now, watching their books sink deeper and deeper into the red without ever feeling the urgency or pinch that such circumstances are supposed to bring about.
Whenever the profits droop or sag under the weight of extra expenses, there is another friendly loan to keep things on a somewhat even keel, but such graces won’t help either titan once Michel Platini’s magic bus of fiscal responsibility rolls into town.
Not that these sides will dump each and every star on the books for pennies on the dollar any time soon, mind you; instead, we’ll likely see some creative contract restructuring, a few kind loan deals to assuage salary burdens, and a rapturous end to the time when Barcelona could simply unveil their mes que un club rhetoric and have every player’s blood bubbling with the thought of joining the Nou Camp collective.
I don’t know about you, but I really can’t wait for that last bit.
2. How many buses will Jose Mourinho park?
Since making many bold statements with Internazionale last season, we’ve seen a slightly more nuanced Real Madrid under the cool gaze of that Portuguese wizard. They score a little less, on average, they retain a bit more defensive nous, and they’re able to conquer teams without always having possession, all of which differs somewhat from Pellegrini’s Real, so lethal with the wind up their sails yet unable to ever conquer adversity on the pitch. Bit like Arsenal, really.
After Jose’s suffocation of the Blaugrana in last season’s Champions League semi-finals, we’d be smart in expecting similar stiflings from his new team, and why not? Guardiola didn’t handle Mourinho at all in that last head-to-head, so why should this afternoon be any different?
Swap out Mesut Oezil for Lass Diarra, or a steady diet of Fernando Gago masquerading as attack-minded fodder, and the patterns will emerge. If the Galacticos are hiding some canny vet a la Javier Zanetti in their ranks, you can bet The Special One has him primed and prepped to perform.
3. Messi, Messi, Messi
The great intangible, all half-formed smiles and flop-top hair. He has such fun, doesn’t he? And, as with all things Barca, he’ll need to be revving at top speed in order to crack Mourinho’s formidable convoy. (Thanks, @elecseanica, for furnishing me with that image)
He does have the benefit of an absurd El Clasico scoring record—seven goals in eight matches—on his side, as well as the fact that Barca have won four on the trot, including a 6-2 beatdown at the Bernabeu in 2009.
4. Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo
On the other side of the coin, you’ve got that preening Portuguese poser, the man responsible for Real’s dynamic charge and every bit as vital to their cause as Messi is to the Blaugrana’s. However, he’s got weightier burdens on his shoulders than just another game against a vicious rival: there’s the fact that he hasn’t managed a goal against Barca in five attempts. He might lead La Liga over Lionel with 14 goals to Messi’s 13, but a sustained drought against their biggest competition makes me think of that other iconoclast who gained a reputation for not scoring in big games. Zlatan something?
Oh, and with rumors swirling that fellow frontman Gonzalo Higuain is out with injury, C-Ron’s class will be needed even more. (Though we could be witnessing a Mourinho gamesmanship special, naturally…)
5. Look at the fans! How can we not get excited?
They’re stoning team buses, and they’re just warming up! Nice that Mou-Mou’s first brush with the Spanish derby involved projectiles, mild injuries to a member of the security staff, and psychological warfare.
Let’s face it; when other leagues or teams let us down, the safe (yet exciting) distance from Real and Barca make their feisty face-offs even more enjoyable for us. We can live vicariously through their rage, their mayhem, and their visceral hatred for one another without feeling it soak into our marrow like it would if our team was involved.
The Spanish pair always serve up high drama—and high quality—so we mark our calendars with giddy reminders for afternoons and evenings just like this one.
To see which footy philosophy reigns supreme—the flair and fun of Barca, or the grim, possession-is-irrelevant machine of Real—simply perch yourself near a TV or computer around 3pm ET.