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El Clasico and the Boomtown Rats

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Phil Minshull | 19:30 UK time, Friday, 26 November 2010

Back in August, Spain's leading sports daily newspaper Marca's traditional pre-season La Liga guide had as the headline for its main editorial, "Hola don Pepito, Hola don Jose."

Even though those words were written more than three months ago, there is no doubt that Monday's El Clasico at the Camp Nou - when Pep Guardiola's Barcelona take on Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid - is the game that the media and almost every other Spanish football fan - even those whose affections lie with the other 18 top-flight clubs - have been waiting for since the start of the campaign.

Given that the respective budgets of champions Barcelona and league leaders Real Madrid continue to dwarf those of their Spanish rivals and the fact that both clubs again indulged in summer spending sprees to bring in new blood, it is no surprise the game is a top-of-the-table clash.

This season's first meeting between the two Spanish giants has more than a few points to make it stand out from even from many of their other recent encounters.

Both Guardiola and Mourinho - the last two winners of the Champions League, with Barca in 2009 and Inter Milan in 2010 - have proven they are coaches and tacticians of outstanding calibre. Despite all Manuel Pellegrini's good points, the Chilean does not quite make the grade in comparison to his Portuguese successor at the Bernabeu.

Last season Jose Mourinho, who was then in charge of Inter Milan, knocked Barca out of the Champions League

Will Jose Mourino get the better of Barcelona again on Monday? Photo: Getty

During the 2009/10 season, Mourinho and Guardiola came face to face for the first time as coaches when Inter met Barcelona met in the Champions League group stages and then the semi-final in April.

Guardiola's Barca won 1-0 in the Camp Nou, thanks to a goal from Gerald Pique, but it was not enough to overturn a 3-1 first-leg loss in Milan.

After arriving at the Bernabeu, Mourinho made a few jibes about Guardiola and Barcelona, notably that the Catalan club sometimes played with 12 men due to referee favouritism.

But Guardiola did not rise to the bait and the ever-loquacious Mourinho seems to have desisted from this line of attack in recent weeks.

Both Real and Barca were less than convincing in the first few weeks of the season, either because their 2010 World Cup stars were still jaded or maybe because new arrivals such as Barcelona's David Villa and Javier Mascherano or Real's Angel Di Maria or Sami Khedira were still finding their feet.

Barcelona lost surprisingly at home to newly-promoted Hercules in the second week of the season, while Real had tepid away 0-0 draws at Levante and Mallorca.

However, since the start of October, both teams have been racking up some big, big wins, while Madrid are unbeaten in all competitions this season.

The match will also provide another fascinating opportunity to compare the talents of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have both been finding the net almost at will in the last two months.

Both men had mediocre World Cup campaigns for their respective countries in South Africa but have since rediscovered their hunger for the game and are making late bids to get the first Fifa Ballon D'Or.

The mathematics surrounding the match are simple. Real lead their traditional rivals by a point but a Barca win means that they will have a two-point advantage at the top of the table and a superior goal difference.

Both teams are not expected to have any absentees through injury or suspensions. Real's Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira both got knocks in the 5-1 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao last Saturday and missed Tuesday's 4-0 victory over Ajax but are expected to be fit for Monday.

If expectations are high for a classic, there are not many people that are happy about the scheduling of El Clasico on a Monday - for only the third time in the game's history.

General Francisco Franco was still in power on 3 April, 1972 when the two teams met on a Monday. If you are looking for omens, Barcelona won 1-0 but Real went on to win the league.

As Marca wrote on its front page back on 12 November, the day after the Nou Camp El Clasico date was confirmed, "Nobody wants this match played on a Monday, but it will be on a Monday."

In an online poll the day after, in which more than 16,000 people voted, 83.4% of respondents said that they actively thought it was a bad idea to play the game on a Monday. Both clubs have also said that they would much prefer to play the game on Sunday.

"It'll be a weird sensation and it's not good for the fans," stated Spain's World Cup-winning striker Villa, who will be playing in his first El Clasico after moving from Valencia to the Nou Camp in the summer.

As is so often is the case, the fans end up being short changed.

The date was only confirmed barely two weeks before the game itself, which has meant that thousands upon thousands of people have had to change their plans, sometimes at great expense.

Many Barcelona fans from the city or surrounding area will now be working or unable to get to the match in time for the 2000 GMT kick-off.

Others travelling from further afield, including overseas fans who have bought 'match packages', will also no longer be able to see the game, having booked return trips for Monday after a weekend in the Catalan city.

The news that the game was going to be on a Monday became public knowledge in the most unsatisfactory fashion when Jaume Roures, the founder and major shareholder of television company Mediapro and also known in the English-speaking world as the producer of the Woody Allen film 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', mentioned it in passing on early morning radio.

"There are 80,000 people, many of them Barcelona fans who are working on the local Catalan elections on the Sunday. This could obviously be a problem in terms of security," Roures said.

However, the fact that it was a TV company showing the game and not La Liga officials - or public authorities, if security was indeed an issue - who made the announcement caused a few raised eyebrows.

A few sceptics wondered if the real reason, with this Saturday not a realistic option owing to Barcelona playing in the Champions League last Wednesday, might have had something to do Mediopro's desire to boost their rather modest Monday match viewing figures and stop shareholder discontent.

Apart from Mediapro shareholders, perhaps one of the few people to benefit from the scheduling has been Bob Geldof.

The Boomtown Rats have never been particularly popular in Spain but Sir Bob will be pocketing a few more royalties in the coming months as quite a few Spanish radio stations gave their old UK number one hit 'I Don't Like Mondays' a good airing in the middle of sports programmes during the last two weeks.

There will be a live text commentary of Barcelona v Real Madrid on the BBC Sport website, starting at 1900 GMT on Monday.

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