We’ve seen a lot of sullen faces during the days running up to tonight’s Clásico. It feels different from other ones. Both sets of fans are contemplating this return leg with a mixture of anxiety and hope, and with that solemn expectation that always creeps in before big games like this. Now madridistas, who take it for granted that their team will be the ones to lift the trophy, are in a bad mood. Even the usually easy-going Zidane is in a fluster about the whole Cristiano matter. Apart from what appears in the rule book – shoving the referee in the back will earn you a four-game ban - you can't argue with that, but there is a feeling of injustice. He didn’t dive, but Luis Suárez did and was given a penalty for it while Cristiano was slapped with a five-match suspension which, with a bit of luck, might be reduced to four.
Fans plan to jeer tonight's match officials
So tonight, spurred on by the protest planned by supporters’ group Capote y Montera, many home fans will reach for their white hankies when tonight’s match official [José María] Sánchez Martínez and his assistants step out into the stadium. Sánchez Martínez isn’t the most experienced of referees – he's only been officiating in the top flight for the past two seasons, yet he will bear the brunt of the fans’ anger at the performance of Sunday’s ref Ricardo de Burgos - one who incidentally passed UEFA’s CORE programme last year and will replace Clos Gómez as an international referee, recognized by UEFA, in January. At Real Madrid a lot of people are not happy with the state of refereeing. Personally I recall other times when the situation was just as bad if not worse – and those who conveniently forget when Messi was left off the hook for pushing Undiano Mallenco [in the 2009 Clásico]. There’s been a certain undercurrent bubbling during the past few years which has culminated in this severe punishment handed out to Cristiano.
Gloomy times at Barcelona
The mood is even worse at Barça, where the fighting is internal rather than directed elsewhere. Piqué made a faux pas when he said that Neymar would be staying - in spite of having known the contrary was true since Messi’s wedding. It begs the question why didn’t he let the club know...? The situation further deteriorated after the first leg when club Director Pep Segura blamed on Piqué’s own goal. Busquets, after going public to make a plea for new signings, tore a strip off Segura in his pre-match presser. And in the meantime, the club has signed Paulinho, a player who seems so far removed from what we would describe as a player ‘in the Barcelona mould’; and that suggests some kind of departure from their standard philosophy. What a few days it’s been... I only hope that once the ball rolls into play tonight, it all changes and we can all enjoy a great game of football.