Europe's elite clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona renew their fierce rivalry four times in 18 days with the first duel taking place today in the league cup fixture and the Santiago Bernabeu. On stake is pride and reputation as the countdown begins.
The eagerly-anticipated round one of the Clasico between the two soccer giants of Spanish football will take place at the Santiago Bernabeu today as Pep Guardiola aims at extending his winning streak against the Galacticos. Barcelona are eight points clear of second-placed Real, and favourites to win a third successive title.
The good news for all Barcelona supporters is that captain marvel and star defender Carles Puyol could play for the first time since January after being included in the squad that will travel to the capital.
Puyol hasn't featured since Jan. 22 due to a left knee injury and Pep Guardiola has been forced to use defensive midfielders Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano to plug the gap with defender Eric Abidal also missing due to a liver surgery.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s usually vibrant coach Jose Mourinho decided to put his silent cap on at the press conference last night and assistant coach Aitor Karanka did all the talking. That did not go down well with journalists at Madrid's Valdebebas training ground and many walked out as soon as Karanka arrived.
It was unusual for Mourinho to be all quiet especially since the Special One is known for his mind games and volatile nature.
Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola was all praise for Jose Mourinho and expects his Real Madrid to improve from their 5-0 El Clasico defeat in November.
Guardiola knows it will be a different story at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.
"I have always held Madrid in high regard, since I was young through to when I was a player—and now as a manager."
Real Madrid and Barcelona are expected to start full-strength even though many pundits believe that the league is all but over. However, gaining the early momentum would be crucial and neither side would like to lose early ground in this epic 18-day battle.
Andy Gray, a former Sky Sports pundit and former Scotland International, has predicted that Real Madrid would do one over bitter rivals FC Barcelona and would triumph 1-0 with German International Ozil on the score sheets.