Barcelona vs Real Madrid rivalry comes to the fore

MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona and Real Madrid have had a bitter rivalry dating way back to 1902 and they are braced to face each other four times in an 18-day period that will define their respective seasons.

Football fans around the globe will be treated to four instalments of 'El Clasico', arguably the biggest game in football, with the two wealthiest and most successful clubs in Spain doing battle for the league, Kings Cup and Champions League crowns.

AFP - Barcelona's Lionel Messi (L) vies with Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos during their Spanish La Liga 'El Clasico' match on November 29, 2010, at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.

Each club and city stands for something different, with Madrid keen to represent the heart of Spain and its values, while Barcelona wants to have its own identity and sees itself as a separate country with Catalan, rather than Spanish, its language.

Historically, Real have been the more successful of the two, boasting nine European Cups to Barcelona's three and 31 league titles to Barcelona's 20.

The Catalans have dominated in recent seasons, however, with a brand of eye-catching football that has secured them two consecutive league titles and the 2009 Champions League crown.

The eagerly-anticipated first Clasico will be held Saturday as they do battle in the league match at the Santiago Bernabeu. Barcelona are already eight points clear of second-placed Real, and favourites to win a third successive title.

A 5-0 mauling from Barcelona in the first league Clasico at Camp Nou back in November means Real are likely to be more pumped than usual for the return game.

It was Jose Mourinho's heaviest defeat in his managerial career and anything less than a first ever Clasico win at the helm of the club on Saturday is likely to spell the end of his side's title hopes with just seven games left to play.

Mourinho, who used to work as a translator at Barcelona, doesn't believe the result of the first match will have a bearing on the subsequent three fixtures. "We have to take each game as a separate entity," said Mourinho.

"I'm not of the opinion that what happens in the first game can influence the second, third or fourth."

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola on the other hand has enjoyed five wins from five of late.

"It doesn't matter what condition we are in. What matters is mentality and desire," said Guardiola. "This is a gift that any sportsperson would be delighted to accept."

Real have not beaten Barcelona since May 2008 when they won 4-1 in a league game at the Bernabeu when Barcelona famously had to do the painful guard of honour in recognition of Real's title win.

The league encounter is followed by the Kings Cup final four days later on April 20 at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium as Mourinho looks to lift his first trophy as Madrid manager.

Incredibly, Barcelona and Real have not met in the Cup final since 1990 when Barcelona won 2-0.

Barcelona are record 25 winners of the Kings Cup and won the competition as recently as 2009, while Madrid have an awful record in the domestic cup with their last triumph coming way back in 1993.

The final duels will be over two legs as they do battle in the Champions League semi-final with the first leg at the Bernabeu on April 27 before the return leg at Camp Nou on May 3.

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