Fabio Capello knows the importance of this game – with Madrid already behind in the league and looking less and less likely to be able to catch up, Capello knows that the result of this game will have a big bearing on how his, and Madrid’s, season turns out.
Barcelona have no such pressure, although they’ll know the value of a good showing here. Their defeat at the hands of Chelsea – I have not seen a more cavalier performance from a team who are league and european champions – will not affect them too much and while you can expect Ronaldinho to finally turn up for this game, don’t expect any fireworks.
Madrid will play defensive, Barca will play keep-ball and try to frustrate Madrid into losing shape – something Chelsea refused to do in midweek and something Capello will have looked at. The only problem is that Makelele was key to Chelsea’s patience, an irony that will never be lost on Madrid fans until the player retires. Madrid have no one who can dominate the midfield the way CM can – Emerson does not sit back as much and Diarra is not reaching Essien’s levels of performance as yet. Ruud van Nistelrooy will have a crucial role to play here, but I imagine that Marquez and Puyol will have an easier time in marking him than they had in marking Drogba.
Predictions: Real Madrid to win 2-1, and Barcelona to go into a mini-slump.
The alternative could mean Madrid slipping even further down the league table (they lie in 7th place) – surely motivation enough for the richest club in the world to beat the best club in Europe?