For all the hype about Super Sundays in the Premiership, and with apologies to the Milan derby which is happening on the same day, in my humble opinion there's nothing that quite matches up to El Clasico, the game of the century, Barca v Real, whatever you want to call it.
Remember what happened at the Camp Nou last season?
Barcelona and Real Madrid had both just been knocked out of the Champions League. Both teams were in a low ebb, one slip-up short of crisis. It was expected to be a low-key affair. Instead, we got this:
(Barcelona 3 - 3 Real Madrid)
It had everything one could want in a football game - drama, controversy, passion, great attacking play, and several protagonists in the shape of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Guti, both goalkeepers and, most of all, young Leo Messi, who cemented his status as a rising star and a hero of the fans by hitting a great hat-trick, the last scored in stoppage time to tie up the game with Barca down to 10 men.
I'll be honest - I missed that late equaliser because by that point, I couldn't stand to watch. It's brutal watching one's team trying to play with 10 men in any game, but in el derbi it's just about unbearable. Having said that, at times in the second half it was difficult to tell which team was a man down - and that's just as it should be.
It's El Clasico, after all.
There's no sense in intellectually analysing a game like this, because it isn't played out against a background of careful tactical planning and previous form, at least not once the players step on the pitch. This game is beyond that.
It's a fixture that has featured some of the world's greatest players throughout the last century. It has made and destroyed careers, and provided countless storylines for the world's press. It invokes passions that go far beyond football.
The Camp Nou will be full. There will be 250 or so Real fans stuck in a corner on the coldest, highest tier, isolated by the partisanship of the rest of the 98000-odd crowd. There's going to be a massive mosaic, perhaps the biggest ever.
And both sides will field 11 players, and they'll play a football game, watched around the world by millions upon millions of fans, to whom it means everything.
Visca el Barca!
A couple of links:
Phil Ball's preview of El Clasico. Includes a recap of last week's games, and excellent as always.
Not Barca, but thanks to Em at Dying Midseason for the link to this wonderful post in tribute to Juan Roman Riquelme.
(If you're wondering what's happened to me, the short answer is work. Hopefully normal posting will resume in January.)