BARCELONA-REAL MADRID

Almost a case of life or death

A full house and select XIs despite next week's Champions League engagements. Tonight's Clasico will be broadcast live in 184 countries with Cruyff centre stage.
Leganés vs Barcelona

It might not make much difference to the league table but tonight's Clásico certainly matters to the rest of the world who will be watching with bated breath. Barça-Madrid, even without the added intrigue of the league title race, is a global event of enormous magnitude. LaLiga is making the most of the occasion to hold events hosts by their ambassadors on four continents (Gaizka Mendieta is in Mexico, Cristian Karembeu in the USA, Frédéric Kanouté and Fernando Morientes are in China...), to market their star product, and the latest installment of the Messi-Cristiano duel - two players who share the last eight Ballon d'Or awards. The match will be broadcast live in 184 countries, the majority of whom won't care an iota about the 10 points' difference that separate the two sides in the standings. Neither Luis Enrique nor Zidane are missing any of their regular starters and both will field their strongest XIs even with the Champions League quarter finals just around the corner. And clubs even paraded their star players in the press conferences leading up to the game last week -  a practice which has all but been forgotten about at Barça and dead and buried a long while ago at Real Madrid. So let's forget all about the respective positions in the table and enjoy the show.

Madrid will be looking for some kind of moral compensation for the dispiriting 0-4 defeat from earlier in the campaign and to confound the general belief that Barça is the better side. In terms of goal/game ratio, their 'BBC' frontline has a better average, 0.94 goals per game compared to 0.89 - the registry which Barça's MSN have to date. Cristiano has hardly missed a minute (3,419 minutes out of a possible 3,510) while Luis Suárez has only rested when Luis Enrique has seen fit or through suspension.The 'BBC' though, is one thing at the Bernabéu and something else entirely on the road - 30 goals at home, just five away.

Barça have a home advantage and a sell-out Camp Nou which will be in high spirits. They've beaten Madrid in 55% of the league games they have contested at home and have only lost one out of the last seven meetings. The Blaugranas will be drawing on Cruyff's influence - the Dutch football sage will be on the players' chests, on a massive mosaic in the stands, his presence will be felt everywhere.

And both coaches won't be reserving any of their big guns. Luis Enrique will field the side who have chalked up the most minutes this season; Zidane, his most faithful XI in recent weeks (which means James and Isco on the bench). The doubts, the usual ones, at right-back. Alves or Sergi Roberto for Barça, Danilo or Carvajal for Madrid. Without the international break, it would usually mean the Brazilians play… Camp Nou will be packed to the rafters, some have paid up to 3,000 euros for a ticket and the whole country will come to a standstill from 8pm this evening. Almost as though it was a game of life or death. It's never been any different.