Preamble: Well, it's only been four months without a Clasico but it feels like an eternity. Barcelona and Real Madrid met six times last season and, for one reason or another, each contest was an enthralling spectacle. The most eagerly-anticipated fixture in world football returns tonight in Catalunia and who would be foolish enough to predict its outcome? Eye-gouging, red cards, embarrassing dives, pigs heads (admittedly no snouted beast has been hurled from the stands in a while) and most importantly, wonderful football. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but for the purists, this is THE ONE.
Last season the Spanish Super Cup produced a barnstorming tie, with Barça prevailing 5-4 on aggregate and famous for the 'Unique One's' cowardly prod on Tito Vilanova's retina. Vilanova is now in the Barça hot seat and it will be the first Clasico without Pep Guardiola since 2008. I wonder where Pep is tonight – following this commentary no doubt, somewhere with his feet up and a Piña Colada in hand, and I hope you are all doing the same.
Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Pedro. Subs: Fabregas, Puyol, Villa, Pinto, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Tello
Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Albiol, Sergio Ramos, Coentrao, Alonso, Khedira, Callejon, Ozil, Ronaldo, Benzema. Subs: Varane, Granero, Marcelo, Adan, Higuain, Di Maria, Lass Diarra, Nacho, Morata, Jesus
There were rumours in the build-up to this match that both coaches wouldn't field their strongest XIs with league games in mind at the weekend, but Mourinho and Vilanova know how damaging a defeat in this tie would be. There is no place for Pepe, usually at the centre of any trouble in these games, as he was concussed during Los Blancos' 1-1 draw with Valencia on Sunday. Barça, meanwhile, leave new signing Alex Song out of their squad and come into the game on the back of demolishing Real Sociedad 5-1 in their season opener.
In case you forgot what happened last year...
Nine minutes until kick-off at Camp Nou
I'm going for a 4-4 draw tonight, Messi red card for a vicious clothesline on Raul Albiol, Ronaldo to retaliate with a Stone Cold Stunner on the unwitting Sergio Busquets.
"Two households both alike in dignity" ... oh Christ, Sky's coverage has gone all Baz Luhrmann on us.
The players are out and we're about to get underway!
And we're off! Madrid get us underway.
1min: Arbeloa immediately lumps the ball long and Madrid have an early free-kick halfway inside Barca's half following a clumsy challenge from Mascherano. "It will be as intense as a Champions League meeting," insists the commentator. Let's hope so.
2min: Early chance for Madrid to test this Barcelona defence. Alonso sprays the ball out wide to the right instead of crossing into the box, he gets it back and looks to play in Khedira, but the flag is raised for offside.
3min: First big roar from this Nou Camp crowd as Busquets turns away from his marker in the centre circle. Barca beginning to press but they lose the ball and Madrid break, Ronaldo gallops forward like a gazelle on heat but is stopped in his tracks by Alves, good challenge says the referee.
5min: Coentrao throws it to Benzema but the Frenchman can't keep hold of the ball. It's a bit scrappy thus far, bags of energy as expected but neither side has settled.
6min: Barca beginning to get a foothold on proceedings and keeping the ball well. Madrid aren't pressing them until they cross the halfway line though, which means the home side's defenders can just stroke the ball too and fro.
8min: Ronaldo looks to play in Benzema from the right flank but there's just not enough pace on the ball and Pique can scramble clear. A wee bit stronger and that could have been a real chance.
9min: Benzema felled by a flick of Adriano's boot but no cards dished out as yet. Madrid look to get things going immediately and Ronaldo looks to slip a deft through ball to Benzema ... just intercepted! Crickey, Busquets goes flying over the top following a challenge from Alonso, who immediately raises his arm apologetically.
11min: The ball hasn't yet gone out of play following that challenge from Alonso, and when it does a full two minutes later, the referee reaches into his pocket and books Raul Albiol of all people! Well it wasn't Albiol who made the tackle but maybe he had a word in the referee's ear.
12min: Busquets is getting a bit of rough treatment out there and, right on cue, decides to pirouette and roll around on the ground. Well, at least no-one should be surprised any more.
14min: Messi has a chance to drive forward towards the heart of Madrid's defence, he plays a one-two and then looked to have been checked, but no free-kick given. Still Barca press and Iniesta hooks a left-footed ball across goal from out wide, but it has too much pace and Alexis can't quite latch onto it.
15min: My word, Messi gives the ball away with a sloppy pass and Madrid break, but Khedira's cross from the left wing is woeful and easily cleared. Both teams lacking a bit of sharpness.
17min: Tiki-taka is beginning to click into gear for Barca now, but there is a white wall on the edge of the Madrid box, forcing the home side backwards and Pique eventually has a pop from 25 yards ... always going wide. Not the worst effort, mind.
18min: Messi is again felled and this time it is a foul, but Barcelona are given the advantage as the momentum was with them. Great cover from Ramos, though, as Alexis almost broke free of the last defender.
19min: Messi goes close! I was just waiting for the net to bulge there but his attempt from just inside the area flies wide! Wonderful play from Alves down the right to control expertly before fizzing the ball back to the edge of the box. Closest we've come to a goal.
21min: Now Madrid are beginning to look a bit bedraggled as the relentless passing machine of Barca cranks into operation. Their shape is good and they are certainly employing counter-attacking tactics, but can they keep chasing their opponents?
23min: Another poor touch from a Barcelona player and this time Xavi is the culprit. There is certainly some ring-rustiness out there as Albiol goes through the back of Sanchez, he's got to be careful after that earlier booking.
24min: Benzema stopped firmly in his tracks by Mascherano and Ronaldo raises his eyes. Disgust, dismay, frustration...probably all those things. Danger now for Madrid though as Barca win a free-kick at the other end as Arbeloa brings down Xavi. This is in shooting range...
25min: We are definitely going to see a shot from this free-kick, 25 yards out and pretty central. Messi lines it up and pulls the trigger...into the wall and behind.
27mins: Intricate play from Messi and Alves in and around the opposition area, but Arbeloa was aware of the danger and hacks away at the last. It's all starting to get a little bit desperate for Los Merengues though.
28min: Great double block from Ramos and Coentrao, as Xavi had a dig from the edge of the D. White shirts are flying all over the shop!
29min: Messi drags another effort wide! That left peg of his is slightly out of kilter at the moment, pulling his effort from just inside the area well wide of Casillas' left upright. He looks disgusted with himself.
31min: Another counter from Madrid and it's slick play with Benzema driving into the area, shrugging off the challenge of Adriano and firing across goal...blocked for a corner.
32min: Ozil whips it into the mixer but that's downright rotten from the German, headed away with ease. Suddenly the momentum shifts again and Iniesta brings it forward for Barca. Eventually it falls for Pedro 30 yards from goal who lines one up...and he stings the palms of Casillas! Decent effort that moved in the air.
34min: Ramos brings the ball out of defence but he sends an appalling pass straight to the feet of Alves, who then launches an attack for Barca, who themselves then squander possession. Come on chaps, step it up!
35min: Ozil with a corner but again it's headed clear with relative ease, but the orb is fired back to the left touchline and Ozil loops one over to the far post this time...there are two men over for Madrid but Valdes comes charging out and leaps like a demented one-fisted lion to punch clear.
37mins: Ronaldo cuts into the area down the left and chips it across goal but Mascherano heads clear – he's been my man of the half so far – a midfielder who really has adapted to playing at centre-half so well.
38mins: Don't expect to see a goal before the whistle goes for half-time but here's to hoping...
39mins: Terrible dive by Alexis! Right on cue! It's about time we had some histrionics tonight and lo and behold, it's the Chilean who delivers. He knocked the ball past Ramos inside the area and the Spain defender went sliding in before pulling out of the challenge, with Sanchez proceeding to tumble down. No card for simulation though.
41mins: Barcelona continue to dominate possession but haven't been their normal deadly self in front of goal. Madrid happy with sitting behind the ball.
42mins: Wonderful turn from Xavi on the edge of the D and Albiol brings him down with a cumbersome effort at a tackle. Still no card for him! I do wonder what that earlier booking was for – it certainly played on the referee's mind there.
43mins: Xavi hits the free-kick...off the ball and out for a corner. Barca still press and Busquets is brought down by Arbeloa, surely a card...
44mins: Yep, Arbeloa picks up a yellow card but nothing is made of the free-kick, Messi's delivery well short of the quality we expect of the wee man. Madrid counter now, as they have done all game, and it's another scything challenge! Mascherano hacks down Coentrao and that is another definite yellow!
45mins: The ball is played over the top for Benzema but there is a late flag for offside. That should be that for the first half.
Half-time. It's 0-0 at the interval in the first Clasico of the season.
Drop me a line if you have any thoughts on tonight's game. It hasn't exactly been exhilarating and Mourinho will be the happier of the two managers.
So apparently it was Alonso who picked up that earlier yellow card, despite the television saying Albiol. How on earth, therefore, has the defender escaped going in the book since then?!
The players are out for the second half and we are ready to get underway again. Will Madrid try and hold out for the 0-0?
The match restarts
46mins: No changes in personnel at the break but I wonder if David Villa will be brought on at some point. He played at the weekend after sitting out last season with that long-term injury.
Mike O'Leary emails:
I think the humidity was a big factor from the start. I live near Barcelona and it's really close here. Starting to miss Pepe.
48mins: Well there were nine goals in the two legs in this tie last season, but I wasn't doing the commentary then, so they've saved this one for me. Thaaanks.
49mins: Trixy Callejon is skipping down the right and Madrid are actually enjoying a spell on the ball in the early stages of this second half. Free-kick as Alexis clips the heels of Arbeloa.
50mins: Ozil drifts the ball into the box with his left foot but the referee awards Barca a free-kick as Ronaldo goes tumbling to the deck, deemed to have committed an infringement.
51mins: Albiol brings Busquests crashing to the ground and picks up a deserved yellow card. That's his FIRST yellow of the game, confirmation that it was Alsono booked in the first half. He's been on thin ice for a while to be fair.
53mins: Another pathetic attempt to con the referee from Alexis! Alves chipped the ball forward and a ricochet inside the area bounced kindly for the Chilean, and he thunders on to the turf after a collision with Arbeloa. There was perhaps contact, but he has previous I'm afraid and that has counted against him.
GOAL! Ronaldo opens the scoring!
55mins: Ozil whips a corner in from the right and Ronaldo gets in front of his marker Busquets to thump a header into the back of the net!
GOAL! Pedro equalises for Barcelona! 1-1!
56mins: Blimey it's all happening here. Straight from the kick-off Mascherano launches a ball over the top for Pedro, he is just about level with Coentrao and controls the ball expertly before firing low past Casillas!
59mins: Now we've got a game on. Woefully sloppy from Madrid there who completely switched off after taking the lead. Why oh why didn't Coentrao step up and simply play Pedro offside? It was a marginal call from the linesman but Coentrao could have made it simple.
60mins: Almost a disastrous own goal from Arbeloa, who decides to chest it back to Casillas when two yards out! Luckily for him Alexis had shoved him in the back and it's a Madrid free-kick.
61mins: Real Madrid substitution: Benzema off, Higuain on.
62mins: Alves forces a fine save from Casillas! Suddenly Barcelona are rampant and the Brazilian cuts inside before hitting the ball low across goal from inside the area on the right, but it's tipped wide!
63mins: Well this game is a marked contrast from the first-half. Both sides are going for it now and there is certainly more emphasis on attack.
65mins: Higuain attempts a half-volley inside the area...charged down! It falls to Callejon...blocked!
66mins: Di Maria on, Callejon off
67mins: Messi looks to play a one-two with Iniesta but it's intercepted by Ramos. It's Barcelona's chance to turn the screw now but Madrid are defending well.
Angus McNeice says:
I'm watching in a bar in Santiago and even the Chileans are ashamed of Alexis' cheating. Side note - Mourinho poked Tito in the cornea, not the retina. Striking the retina would take a horrific gouge, penetrating the pupil, lens, and the vitreous humor, rendering a victim blind in that eye.
69mins: Penalty to Barcelona! Iniesta brought down by Ramos in the area!
70mins: GOAL! Messi sends Casillas the wrong way and fires low into the goalkeeper's bottom left corner! 2-1!
72mins: So it's a complete turnaround here. Mourinho will be furious with his side after squandering a lead. Barcelona are looking to make a change and inflict some more misery on Madrid.
72mins: Barcelona substitution: Sanchez off, Tello on
74mins: Valdes has to deal with a couple of tricky crosses and does so well. Suddenly Alonso picks out Ozil over the top with a staggering raking ball, but he can't control and the defenders get back in numbers. Phenomenal ball from Alonso!
76mins: Pedro is in a bit of pain, Ramos inadvertently stands on his side while tumbling over the Barca forward. He'll have a few nasty stud marks that's for sure, but there was no malice from the Madrid man.
Gotta love Ramos. Sold by the cutback, clearly didn't touch the ball, and got Iniesta's ankle caught between his legs. Hands straight up in the air in a 'Wasnt me, he must've dived, guv' stylee. The shamelessness of football knows no bounds.
GOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLL! Xavi makes it 3-1 Barcelona!
77mins: WHAT A GOAL! That was magical stuff from Andres Iniesta, breathtakingly quick feet to dance round two defenders before slipping a perfect pass through for Xavi, who tucked it home. Wonderful.
79mins: This second half has been breathtaking, and still Barca come again and again. Pique finds himself in an advanced position but the pass through is overhit.
82mins: Real Madrid substitution: Marcelo on, Ozil off
83mins: Messi is clattered to the ground by his ARCH NEMESIS Ronaldo and Barca have a free-kick. The home side preparing another change...
83mins: Barcelona substitution: Fabregas on, Xavi off
85mins: Real Madrid are looking tired now but if they can get that second goal it would change the complexion of the tie completely. At least they've got that away goal.
GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL! Disaster for Valdes and Di Maria tucks it home! 3-2!
86mins: Victor Valdes, bow your head in shame. That was abysmal goalkeeping as he controls a backpass before attempting to shimmy round Di Maria, only to lose the ball and see it in the back of his own net. You've got to laugh, unless you're a Barca fan.
87mins: Casillas had just made a crucial save before that Madrid goal – how important that proved to be.
88mins: Barcelona substitution: Alba on, Pedro off
90mins: This pulsating second half is drawing to a close and both sides have been left wanting at the back. Three minutes of injury time to be played.
90+2mins: Madrid aren't looking to slow the tempo down as they probe for a late equaliser. They won't do it like that though, as Di Maria knocks the balls straight out of play.
Valdes would be a superb goalkeeper if it wasn't for those 3-4 gaffs he makes every season which stick in people's minds.
Unfortunately the fact he makes those gaffes means he will never be a superb goalkeeper.
The full-time whistle goes! It finishes Barcelona 3-2 Real Madrid.
Well that was a ridiculous second half. Five goals in it and some sublime play, as well as a piece of buffoonery from Valdes. Madrid will surely be the happier of the two sides and take two away goals back to the Bernabeu next week.
Andres Iniesta – marry me?
That's all from me folks, I'll catch you next time.