I was going to do previews for the whole matchday, but what's the point when I'm so preoccupied with this game? It might be less important than last season, but I don't think it'll be any less heated. Besides, now that Real have won their Champions League game, it would be nice to match them going into El Gran Classico.
Everyone and their dog will know about the horrible injury suffered by Petr Cech in the game against Reading. It's a real shame, because he is a class act and one of my favourite players from Chelsea. Their second choice keeper Cudicini would have been a more than fine replacement, but he's out too, so third-choice Hilario is stepping into the line of fire. This might not be such bad news - plenty of reserve keepers have been called on like this and given a stunning performance.
Other than that, everyone is available to coach Mourinho. No one knows whether or not he will use the new 4-4-2 formation to fit in the summer signings Ballack and Shevchenko or drop back to the old 4-3-3 for a bit more width and pace. Either way, the backline of Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, and Ashley Cole is pretty much nailed on, and Lampard, Makelele, and Drogba will definitely start. The two new boys were bought to further Chelsea's ambitions in Europe, so it's hard to see them not playing. I guess that leaves one spot up for grabs - Essien or Robben, most likely.
We will no doubt miss the pace and desire of Sammy Eto'o and the attacking options provided by injured right-back Belletti, but the rest of the squad has travelled and are available to play.
As you can see, the defence is pretty much nailed on due to recent rotations. Over in midfield, I'm not sure if Rijkaard will stick with the more physical option of playing both defensive midfielders (Edmilson and Motta) that worked so well last season. It might be a good idea, especially if Chelsea choose to go with the more physical midfield diamond themselves. If he decides against that, Xavi will probably start ahead of Iniesta, who might come on as an impact sub.
Up front, there are rumours that Messi might not start, rested in preparation for the Real game, but if that's the case, expect him on as a substitute sometime in the second half. In this kind of form, though, I can't see why he'd start on the bench, given how well he did at Stamford Bridge last season. Gudjohnsen should start since he's better equipped to cope with the physical aspects of the game, but Saviola's pace and technique could cause the Chelsea defence trouble as well, so he might come on as sub.
In any case, this game has the immense promise of a classic, two fantasy teams battling it out with heart and soul. Let's hope it's a great game, unmarred by controversy and filled with great football. I'd be happy with a draw, but anything can happen when these two teams meet.