The first clasico of La Liga's 2013-14 season is fast approaching, Barcelona hosting Real Madrid on Saturday with three points currently separating the two sides in the table.
Barcelona, the reigning Spanish league champions, are now the only remaining unbeaten team in Spain's top flight and have, for the past half a dozen years or so, been the club that everybody looks to as the team to beat to win major trophies.
Real have had a somewhat lean time of things in recent years, winning just one championship from the last five, but will have hope for more silverware this season after bringing in Carlo Ancelotti as coach and signing some huge talents such as Isco and world-record signing Gareth Bale.
Putting the two teams together is often a recipe for disaster in asking which has the better players, but it's certainly worth monitoring which of the regular starters have been in better form over the initial part of the present season—and who could have a big impact in el clasico.
Here is our combined dream team between Barca and Real players, with emphasis on those who have put in stellar showings over the first two months of the current campaign.
The side lines up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Goalkeeper: Diego Lopez (RMA)
Any keeper who manages to hold off the challenge of Iker Casillas has got to be something special, or at least in exceptional form, and that's just what Diego Lopez is doing just now.
The 31-year old has been Real's No. 1 for all nine of this season's league games and played in 16 of the last 17 at the back end of last term. He was thought to be being used largely as a power show under Jose Mourinho last term. However, nothing but a great attitude and consistent displays has kept him in the side with Ancelotti now in charge.
Lopez is athletic, has great reflexes and his confidence has to be sky-high right now, which all lends itself to making him the form goalkeeper out of Spain's big two.
Right-back: Dani Alves (FCB)
Dani Alves has been a constant presence down Barcelona's right flank for the last six seasons and has started this term in typically energetic and effective fashion.
The Brazilian has already found himself on the scoresheet twice this term in league play, after failing to score at all last season, but it is in his build-up contribution and ability to break forward from deep positions, tearing apart the opposition line of defence, which really marks his standout performances.
Not content with merely opening the pitch and providing crosses, the wing-back is equally happy to run with the ball infield and look to swap passes around the edge of the penalty area before driving in toward the six-yard box area.
He remains the most devastating attacking full-back in the league, and his pace, power and stamina mean he is quickly able to track back and fulfil his defensive duties, too.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos (RMA)
There are times when Real's defence has looked all at sea over the past year or so, and only the bravery and determination of Sergio Ramos has halted that decline on occasion.
He's not perfect himself in terms of organisation and holding the back four in check, but he's certainly most capable of making up for the mistakes of others and puts himself on the line for his team.
Both on the ground and in the air, Ramos is a formidable opponent, hugely difficult for opposition attackers to beat.
He's a threat going forward, vastly experienced, and a leader and a good communicator at key times.
Centre-back: Javier Mascherano (FCB)
Far from a natural member of the back four, Mascherano has found himself deployed as a centre-back by necessity at Barcelona, with his all-action, fearless tackling style a good match when paired with a more technical and refined partner.
As when playing in an anchor role, Mascherano reads the game brilliantly and sweeps up danger when the ball is played beyond the dominant Barcelona midfield, keeping things quick and simple to get passing moves going from the back.
He's been a vital asset to Barça in the absence of other key defenders and, of course, he remains arguably the best pure defensive midfielder in the game when played there—as he does for Argentina, his national team.
Left-back: Adriano (FCB)
On the left side of the defence, Adriano has been a solid and dependable performer for his team, but his displays are perhaps at times undervalued because he's not quite the dynamic speed-merchant of Jordi Alba or the household name like the Brazilian Alves.
Nonetheless, both defensively and moving into the middle and attacking thirds, Adriano simply gets the job done brilliantly, supporting his midfield and helping to fashion chances at the top end of the pitch without missing a beat in line with his fellow defenders.
With Alba and Marcelo missing parts of this season through injury, Adriano is the natural choice to fill the left-back role and would also add a little more balance to this fictional side with his judgement of being able to hold himself back at times.
Holding midfield: Sergio Busquets (FCB)
For picking up loose balls, positioning himself to intercept opposition counter attacks and quickly giving the ball to recycle possession, few do the holding midfield job as well as Sergio Busquets.
His job description sounds relatively straightforward, but his reading of the game and an at-times disguised athleticism means he can do it to an extraordinarily high level, with great consistency.
Busquets gets through huge numbers of defensive actions every game, making tackles, blocks and interceptions to win back the ball.
Barcelona are known for their heavy use of possession and Sergio is key to that for two reasons; he quickly pressurises any attackers who break beyond the midfield line, invariably forcing them into a mistake, and he also constantly makes himself available to receive the ball, deep and in space, to recycle possession safely.
He's pivotal to the team and protects the defence as much as he lets the top-class attackers do their job.
Attacking midfield: Cesc Fabregas (FCB)
Barcelona have any number of top midfield talents in the final third of the pitch, but Cesc Fabregas is the best performing one of them so far this season.
While Xavi's form takes a bit of down time and Andres Iniesta finds himself in and out of Tata Martino's rotation plans for the attack, Fabregas has featured in all but one of Barcelona's league games and is La Liga's top man for assists so far, having set up six goals already.
Fabregas has drifted between an advanced midfield role and a deep forward this season, but his link-up play and involvement in the final third have been of supreme quality whatever his role.
Attacking midfield: Isco (RMA)
Back to Madrid now and a worthy inclusion for Isco, who has set about impressing his new fans and manager with a series of mature and exciting performances from a central attacking role.
He ranks in the top 10 of La Liga for key passes per game—just one place behind Cesc, in fact—while he has also chipped in with four goals in his first nine league games for Real, making him the team's second-top scorer so far this season.
Isco has shown good composure and determination to net some key goals at times including a brace against Athletic Bilbao. He tends to see his position altered in-game at times and doesn't always play out the full 90 minutes at this stage of his career, but he is undeniably already an important part of Ancelotti's team and will remain a big player for Real for some time to come.
Right forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (RMA)
Here's the one player who has had his role altered somewhat in the team from where he usually plays for his club, but it's probably not one which would make an awful lot of difference to how much of an impact Cristiano Ronaldo has on a game.
Normally on the left, he slots in here on the opposite flank as a real goalscoring threat and a game changer all by himself.
He maybe hasn't quite hit the heights of last season just yet this term, which just goes to show the ridiculous levels of consistency expected of him—Ronaldo has, after all, scored eight goals in nine games so far, the joint-second top scorer in La Liga.
Despite not being at his best, he's more involved in the final third than ever. Last term Ronaldo was far and away the busiest forward in Europe in terms of making the highest number of shots per game, and this season he's raised the bar even higher, averaging a whopping nine shots per game.
Considering he doesn't stick to the flank but wanders infield, races beyond the striker and dribbles centrally or sprints to the back post, changing from one wing to the other isn't going to affect his effectiveness.
Left forward: Neymar (FCB)
The reason for changing over Ronaldo is to accommodate a new arrival to el clasico: Brazilian forward Neymar, who is already shining for Barcelona after arriving in the summer.
Any doubts about whether he could prove himself one of the better talents in world football after leaving his home country have already been well and truly answered, as he has displayed not only his trademark footwork and pace but a good eye for goal and a real team ethic.
From six starts, Neymar has registered two goals and five assists, putting him in the top 20 in the league for both key passes per game and shots per game. In terms of his renowned dribbling ability, Neymar averages four per game, the third highest in La Liga.
His impact has been immediate and he rightfully takes his place, just ahead of impressive team-mate Alexis Sanchez and world-record transfer signing Gareth Bale.
Centre-forward: Leo Messi (FCB)
Spearheading the attack, of course, is Leo Messi.
The Barcelona forward has already missed a few games this season due to injury, starting only six of Barca's nine games, but he's still found the net eight times for a 22 per cent conversion rate (compared to 10 per cent for both Neymar and Ronaldo).
Messi's talents need no introduction and if Barcelona are both to retain the league title and challenge once again for the Champions League, his fitness and consistency will be absolutely key.
The forthcoming clasico will be a great opportunity to assess how close to full fitness he is, having missed the Rayo Vallecano match and only making a brief sub appearance in Barca's last game against Osasuna.
If he's on form, he's capable of winning el clasico by himself, but a less-than-fit Messi might be better off being utilised as an impact sub.
In a lineup supported by the likes of Neymar, Isco and Ronaldo, though, it's a forward line which would probably breach the 100-goal barrier by itself.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!