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Clásico comes just in time for Madrid

Published: Friday 5 October 2012, 9.18CET
With FC Barcelona set to host Real Madrid CF in Sunday's Clásico, Graham Hunter and Paul Bryan share their thoughts on how the two great rivals are shaping up for the contest.

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Published: Friday 5 October 2012, 9.18CET

Clásico comes just in time for Madrid

With FC Barcelona set to host Real Madrid CF in Sunday's Clásico, Graham Hunter and Paul Bryan share their thoughts on how the two great rivals are shaping up for the contest.

View from Barcelona: Graham Hunter
This is one of the occasions which, specifically, helped Tito Vilanova to be hired for the FC Barcelona job. An alumnus of the Camp Nou talent school, he has been living this Clásico fixture for the better part of his life – as a fan, as a junior player on the Barça books and then as assistant to Josep Guardiola while the club ran up a series of famous victories against Real Madrid CF.

A contest which can draw the breath from your body, send the adrenaline thundering through the veins and induce erratic behavior, will hold no worries for Vilanova.

Naturally, a great deal of the Camp Nou focus will be on Carles Puyol's unavailability, the possibility that Gerard Piqué's ankle will not allow him to return in time, and the fact that Andrés Iniesta, too, is just back after an enforced absence.

However, over the years in which they have been close friends, Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has consistently said that if he were allowed to pluck a single player out of the Barça side before a Clásico, it would always be Xavi Hernández. The midfield maestro has been on top form this season, loves rising to the occasion and will be the nerve centre of the home side's performance if they are to win and establish a daunting 11-point gap in early October. If the champions can smother his creativity, then perhaps they can register a second consecutive Liga win at the Camp Nou.

View from Madrid: Paul Bryan
For a very brief period at the end of August, José Mourinho must have radiated with satisfaction as he watched Madrid stun Barcelona with a ferocious attacking display that at first sight seemed to signal a regime change at the top of Spanish football.

Thrown a lifeline at the end of their Spanish Super Cup first-leg defeat away to the Blaugrana, the Liga champions roared back at the opening of the return. They took a 2-0 lead (eventually winning 2-1 and on away goals) and looked as hungry as their opponents had that famous night at the Camp Nou two years before when Mourinho suffered his most chastening experience as a coach.

Yet where Barcelona were relentless in chalking up a 5-0 victory in November 2010, the Merengues – despite lifting the Super Cup – sunk into a shell that has left their coach frustrated. Winning a 32nd Liga title in May with record hauls of 100 points and 121 goals was supposed to be just the beginning. Incredibly, though, Spain's most successful club find themselves already trailing their rivals by eight points after just six games this term.

Confidence is steadily growing again thanks to a four-match winning streak, but the general consensus is that any successful title defence requires the champions to extend that sequence to five.

"Against Barcelona [in the Super Cup second leg], I saw a team play to their absolute limits from the very first minute, and who produced a performance that they have since failed to repeat since."
José Mourinho after the 3-0 Liga win against Granada CF on 2 September.

"A victory for us will not settle the Liga title; firstly because it's far too early in the season and secondly because it's Real Madrid we are talking about here.”
Cesc Fàbregas is not getting carried away.

"In terms of a possible outcome, I've never been good at doing the pools, so ..."
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque sits on the fence.

"I'm certain there will be a pressure-cooker atmosphere inside the Camp Nou on the evening of this game."
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell hopes for home advantage.

"We're going out to win it. We are well aware of the position we find ourselves in, and of the huge importance associated with a Clásico."
Xabi Alonso revs up his Madrid team-mates.

Clásico stats
Wins: Barcelona – 87, Madrid – 88, draws – 46
Most appearances: Xavi Hernández (34, Barcelona), Raúl González (37, Madrid)
Top scorers: Lionel Messi (15, Barcelona), Alfredo Di Stéfano (18, Madrid)

Last ten meetings
Madrid 2-1 Barcelona (Spanish Super Cup)
Barcelona 3-2 Madrid (Spanish Super Cup)
Barcelona 1-2 Madrid (Spanish Liga)
Barcelona 2-2 Madrid (Copa del Rey)
Madrid 1-2 Barcelona (Copa del Rey)
Madrid 1-3 Barcelona (Spanish Liga)
Barcelona 3-2 Madrid (Spanish Super Cup)
Madrid 2-2 Barcelona (Spanish Super Cup)
Barcelona 1-1 Madrid (UEFA Champions League)
Madrid 0-2 Barcelona (UEFA Champions League)

Last updated: 04/12/13 19.13CET

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