Evening all. Hope you're well. So, El Clásico then eh? Not to be confused with this, this, this or – and I can't emphasise this enough – this, tonight is Vader v Skywalker, Aragorn v Sauron, Lion-O v Mummra, Rocky v Ivan Drago, Potter v Voldemort (or Den Perry if you prefer), Captain Planet v Global Warming, Oasis v Blur and Super Ted v Texas Pete combined, multiplied by, ooh, a billion and then with some added bile and vitriol slung in for good measure.
You decide for yourselves who sits where on each side of those divides, although José Mourinho is clearly a superb Baddie to Pep Guardiola's Goodie. Guardiola and Barça try to carve the opposition up with 11 tiny ornate silver toothpicks, Mourinho and Real have gone out and bought the sharpest chisel and biggest hammer that money can buy. Or so the narrative decrees. It'll be interesting to see how the tactical storyline plays out.
Presumably you'll be wanting some proper preview material to get the old juices flowing (although the thought of Guardiola dressed like this and Mourinho looking a like this pretty much does it for me). In which case may I suggest Zonal Marking's tactical breakdown, Sid Lowe's Mourinho masterclass from this week's Observer, this Joy of Six of classic El Clásicos, and, if you really must, the Fiver's, ahem, THE WINDOWS ON THE BUS GO SMASH, SMASH, SMASH.
Of course, while those classic El Clásicos in the Joy of Six are all notable for their own reasons, the one that still really stings in one half of the Spanish divide is this one:
Barcelona (probable 4-1-2-3): Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Villa, Pedro.
Real Madrid (probable 4-2-3-1): Casillas; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema.
Sid Lowe on Twitter (@sidlowe) reckons that Real line-up, with Benzema preferred to other more defensive options, is reason for excitement.
An email! "I think most of this country has forgotten this El Clasico, instead the biggest rivalry in football and (probably) the biggest game of the season is on," writes Andrew Rae. "That's Forest v Leicester to the rest of you, Messi who? McGugan hat-trick." 'Fraid you're kidding yourself Andy. Both those teams hate Derby more, no?
It's spitting at the Camp Nou - looks like that fine rain that soaks you through. Mourinho is out on the pitch, that half-sneer, half-smile curling at the corners of his mouth. Pitchfork and pointy-tail absent, though.
Another email dept. "Barcelona aren't lefties, they just pretend they are," fumes Jonah Gadsby. "Real Madrid are righties, and do it conspicuously. Their politics are the same but Barcelona are like the pigs from Animal Farm." That analogy certainly takes it up a notch or two from my Thundercats nonsense.
Just 10 minutes to kick-off and the atmosphere at the Camp Nou is really building. So what do we reckon? I have to say my hunch, and it's no more than that, is for a home win.
Click-clack, click-clack … the teams emerge from the tunnel into a cauldron of colour.
Nothing to do with this Spanish scuffle but: "No, Andrew Rae's right," reckons Rai Skrupskis. "The City/Forest rivalry is older and more acerbic than anything to do with Derby. For both sets of fans." Really? I'd be astonished if that's true. Confirmations or denials?
Peep! Real, kicking from right to left, get things underway!
1 min: "For all of the build-up to this match, shouldn't it be a reassurance to footballers everywhere that plonkers like Abidal, Busquets, and Pepe can get into these sides?" wonders Lou Roper. An overhit Real long ball gives Valdes an early touch.
2 min: Pepe nods away as Villa looks to get on the end of another lofted through-ball, then the same player cuts out a zipping pass from the left.
3 min: Pedro attempts a pointlessy pretty flick when nicely placed on the edge of the Real box (although, to be fair, if we're going to get riled by things pointless and pretty it could be a long night). Valdes collects a low Ronaldo cross – but he looks in some pain …
4 min: … he in fact nutted Pique's shins as he hunkered down to take that cross. He'll be fine after a bit of the old magic sponge, I'm sure.
5 min: Messi skitters past a couple of challenges, wins a corner …
6 min: … AND MESSI HITS THE POST!!! With a quite ludicrously wonderful little dink from the narrowest of angles. Casillas was beaten. Alves then spanks a shot well wide from distance.
8 min: "Apparently Sky reckon that 400 million people are watching this around the globe," notes Ian Burch. "I doubt that very much seeing as ESPN are showing Droylsden v the Orient in the FA Cup tonight." Ronaldo's turn to delve into his box of tricks, with more lollipops than an sweet shop. His cross finds Di Maria, but the life of the little Argentinean's efforts are squeezed out by the boa of Barca's defence.
GOAL!!! Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid (Xavi 10) Iniesta's pass for this is a work of art. It's a pass so cunning you put a hat on it and call it a weasel. To Pepe's credit he almost cuts it out, but can only bobble it up for Xavi to coolly loft past the stranded Casillas.
12 min: Real respond with an incisive attack after Alonso robs Messi. Di Maria stings Valdes's palms from distance. Corner …
13 min: … nodded away by Barça. And I don't want to dwell any more on this, but: "As a supporter of the mighty Rams myself, I must respectfully disagree with some of what has already been said," writes Charles Robinson. "My understanding is that both Derby and Notts Forest fans regard Leicester as a nice distraction, an east Midlands derby that will tide us over until the real deal - the Trees vs the Rams."
14 min: Abidal almost prods Ronaldo's cross past Valdes under pressure from Benzema. The goalkeeper, though, deflects it wide and from the corner Real can only head well over.
15 min: "Commentator allaying any fears of animal body parts being thrown at Mourinho by Barca fans. 'All animal body parts have been confiscated before kick-off,' notes James Phillips. "Very much a relief, but begs the question, why in the blazes animal body parts?" Anyone?
16 min: Ah, yes. "It's because a Catalan fan threw the head of a pig at Luis Figo after signing for Real Madrid," writes Johnathan Kaszynski in one of the quickest responses ever seen on an MBM.
GOAL!!! Barcelona 2-0 Real Madrid (Pedro 18) Barça get knee-deep in tiki and up to their elbows in taka and it pays off. Twenty-odd unopposed passes reach a crescendo as the ball is swept wide to Villa. He scurries to the byline, drives in a cross that squirts through the hands of Casillas at the near post, handing Pedro the easiest of tap-ins.
20 min: Real have attempted to follow the Inter blueprint – letting Barça have the ball and waiting to counter. They've just not defended well enough while doing it.
22 min: Pedro this time gets to the byline, Ramos forced to put out for another corner. A little sand-wedge from Alves almost puts Barça in once more.
24 min: Real finally get their collective foot on the ball – but Alonso's pass dribbles through Di Maria's legs. Just about sums it up for the visitors thus far.
26 min: Another loose pass hands possession straight back to Barça and after another 90 seconds of composed possession Pedro is almost clean through on Casillas. Guardiola's side have a remarkable ability to make their opposition appear clumsy and leaden-footed by comparison.
27 min: "Everytime they say 'Angel Di Maria', I seem to hear the words 'Unhealthy Maria', and there's a shot of him looking tired wiping his sweating face." notes Namratha Hegde. "Why?" Can't say why, but he certainly looks like a couple of decent meals would do him no harm. A large fish pie perhaps?
29 min: A long ball OTT is slapped out for a goal kick by Iniesta, which seems like a good time for this email: "Just a quick observation," writes George Solomon. "It appears to me that it's Guardiola who's played the tactical masterstroke, despite everyone assuming it would be Mourinho. When there's nothing on for Busquets et al, two of the front three are peeling wide and getting a long ball. It's pushing the Madrid defence back and giving Iniesta the space to play his incisive passes; see Xavi's goal."
30 min: Fisticuffs!!!
31 min: Ronaldo gave Pep Guardiola a little shove after the manager threw the ball away from the Portuguese. Not hugely smart from either man, and it sparks more handbags than a [INSERT LARGE HANDBAG RETAIL OUTLET HERE]. Valdes, who was particularly excited, picked up a booking, as did Ronaldo.
33 min: Another booking, this time to Villa who catches Khedira a little late. Decent position this. Central. 35 yards out …
34 min: … Ronaldo curls it a yard wide and an ill-deserved corner is cleared.
35 min: "We may even go three nil down, but I completely trust in Mourinho to come back and win us the game," roars an optimistic Jonah Gadsby. Pepe is booked for hauling back a rampaging Messi on the break. That's four bookings now.
37 min: Ronaldo zooms across Valdes and oh-so-nearly gets there ahead of the keeper before tumbling down. It was a ball he had no right to get on the end of, but the referee says no penalty, probably correctly.
40 min: Di Maria, who has been involved as much as any Real player despite being largely ineffective, again loses possession far too easily, and Messi gets those little legs a-whirring. The eventual shot is wilder than Oxford United's manager.
41 min: "Nice to read an MBM that's not rife with notations of poor passing, wasted corners, free kicks into the wall, absent defences, etc," writes Paul Szabo. "Can we get more of these? Or do we need to move Guardian Towers out of England?" Hear, hear. I believe the standard of play in Tahiti these days is excellent. Pepe denies Messi with a fine, fine tackle. Excellent defending.
43 min: Ronaldo spanks a shot at goal from all of 45 yards. That stank of desperation.
45 min: More fisticuffs. Carvalho had a right go at Messi after a sound tackle from the former Chelsea man. And as Messi attempted to answer back he got what was essentially an elbow in the chops for his trouble. Messi ends up with a booking, presumably for the initial dive (which may not have been a dive at all). Carvalho goes unpunished.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeep!!! So ends an utterly absorbing, breathless half of football. This is looking bleak for Real – for half-time, let's have some tales of matches that have broken your heart. Don't worry, you're among friends here. Get it out. Let it go.
Half-time email dept.
"After Messi's pathetic attempt to get Carvallho sent off, can we move past this simplistic notion that he's the light to Ronaldo's darkness? They're both footballers and they both like to go down when it is to their advantage, as do all footballers." – Jonathan Francis.
"Neither of these teams would be able to live with the guts, effort and heart of a pure Premier League side. They may inadvertently win the game by scoring more goals through playing much better football, but their heads would be bowed in shame come the end as they will not have matched the honest toiling of players running around really quickly without the ball. The premier league, better than Italy, but so very far behind Spain." – Ben Dunn
Half-time heartbreak dept.
For me, by the way, it was this. Painful just to link to it.
"There have been a few of these over the years but one that really sticks in my mind was my Liverpool losing 4-2 in the FA Cup away at Chelsea in 1996/97. For a young lad who'd just gotten back into football again after leaving primary school and to have all the weaknesses of my team highlighted by a burly, curly-haired welshman (Mark Hughes to you and me) after we'd been leading 2-0 at half time in a game I'd been looking forwards to for weeks was gutting. A harsh early lesson in how football can take you to a wonderful place and then take equal glee in kicking you into a personal hell. But I'm over it now. Ahem." – Chris Kempshall
"I had only just started following Liverpool in the 1988-89 season, as an 11 year old, so the 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on May 26th 1989 rather broke my little heart. I couldn't watch the match, in fact I hid under the snooker table in the other room. I literally did not believe the result and thought the action replay of Michael Thomas' goal was a forgery. Nothing will ever top that." – Patrick Crumlish
"I don't know if this counts as 'heart break' per se, but I remember watching a Gillingham match in the freezing cold around mid December last season. Gillingham had been more or less flawless at home (but dire away) up till that point, but we then suddenly started dropping points. I have trouble remembering if we were winning or drawing, but it was a miserable day and we conceded a goal around 88 minutes and ended up throwing away points. I'm not proud of it but it's the first time I ever left a match early. We were appalling." - Joe Mahoney
Peep! Barça get the second half underway. Lassana Diarra (or 'LASS' as he's known on his shirt) replaces the utterly peripheral Ozil.
46 min: "As a young Chelsea fan the 1994 FA Cup final was played on my 13th Birthday and after the match my plan was to go ice skating (for the first time ever) with school friends at the local rink," begins Andy Scott. "To cut a long story short Utd won comfortably 4-0, every Utd fan wore their Utd shirts to the rink, I fell over numerous times, the DJ played 'glory glory Man Utd' 3 TIMES which was sung by everyone at the rink but me… I needed to get off the ice quickly (for eye watering reasons) and I fell over a final time and badly sprained my wrist….. Not a good birthday." Marcelo hoiks in a cross, Abidal calmly chests back to Valdes.
47 min: Should be 3-0. Messi skitters across the box and should put Villa through. Instead he shoots, a blocked shot that almost falls to Pedro and then bobbles out to Villa, whose shot is smothered.
49 min: Alonso gives Busquets a good whack from behind and picks up a booking for his trouble.
51 min: Another big chance for Barça goes begging. Messi's PhD-clever through ball finds Xavi, whose first shot is smothered and second finds the side-netting. "One of my earliest footy memories is connected to Spain, the World Cup in 1982," writes Robin Hazlehurst. "I was only a wee lad, and although I have no Irish connections I was really rooting for Northern Ireland (as well as England). When Mal Donaghy got sent off against Spain (wasn't it? It was certainly unwarrented and ridiculous whoever it was against) I was reduced to tears of blazing rage and outrage - I vaguely remember my Dad being rather gobsmacked and telling me to calm down. To see the spirit of fair play so flagrantly abused at such a young age may have scarred me deeply."
53 min: Iniesta is six inches away from sending Pedro clear, but Marcelo intercepts.
GOAL!!!! Barcelona 3-0 Real Madrid (Villa 55) Goodnight Irene. Messi is again the agent provocateur, finding Villa peeling off the shoulder of Pepe. The pass is superb, the finish equally so. That is that, surely.
56 min: Casillas was booked after his protests – Villa was borderline offside – went too far. "At this point I am starting to feel that we may have to be satisfied with a draw ..." concedes Jonah Gadsby.
GOAL!!! Barcelona 4-0 Real Madrid (Villa 58) Gordon Bennett! It's another! Another sumptuous, stunning Messi pass, this one a 30-yarder slicing the defence apart like a Catalan Stanley knife. Villa's one-touch finish just beats the onrushing Casillas. This is a proper rout
59 min: "How about the happiest moment?" writes Todd Landaburu. OK, sure. "I know it may be premature, but the faces of CR9 and the Special One after the end of El Smashico will for sure rank in my top ten. Barça are class." I like that – El Smashico. Can anybody beat that for a moniker?
60 min: Mourinho hauls off Marcelo and sends on Arbeloa. Alonso smashes a free-kick wide. "Mine is the Milk Cup final, 1983 - Liverpool vs. Manchester United," writes Mark O'Gara. "I was nine years old, and in the middle of a five week stay in hospital with viral pneumonia. I managed to get my bed and drips wheeled into a ward with a T.V., where I watched Ray Kennedy and Ronnie Whelan rub salt into my wounds. Months of lung physio that followed was nothing compared to the pain of that afternoon."
62 min: This has been something very, very special from Barcelona. Real Madrid – that Real Madrid – have not been in it. They've not been allowed to get themselves in it. In fact, it's the "El Routisco" reckons Robert Gallo, opening the bidding.
64 min: Busquets, a quietly efficient presence tonight, attempts to beat Casillas from the centre-circle. He's about a yard and a half over.
65 min: "El Fiasco," offers Kiran Phuyal. "El Crashico" tries Jamie Woods. "El Clumsico" reckons John Lynch. "El Scorchio" says Graeme Neill. The GOLTV commentator in the US has described facing Barça as "Playing Poker with A Witch" writes Patrick Smith. Lovely line.
67 min: The details for the last five minutes: Barcelona have the ball. Real can't get it back. In fact, that's been the pattern for the past 66 minutes.
69 min: El Thrashico – Duncan Smith. El Kick-assico? – Paul Southcroft. El Passico – Peter Wahlberg. Chapeau to all of those. The Camp Nou roars as if a goal has been scored as the tiki-taka reaches ethereal levels and Real chase will-o'-the-wisps.
71 min: El OutClasico is a good 'un from OJ. Carvalho ends another epic spell of possession by handling a ball that would put Pedro (I think) clean through. A booking (a lucky one), and Ramos joins him in the book after clattering Villa.
73 min: El Cataclysmico isn't a bad effort either from Alastair Middleton. If I was editor of AS or Marca you'd all be getting jobs in the morning. Khedira shoulders Messi to the deck and picks up yet another booking. The referee's pencil will be getting a bit blunt by now.
75 min: Villa comes off to a cacophonous ovation, Bojan Krkic comes on. With his first touch he's almost clean through, but stumbles under pressure and Pepe clears. Seconds later he's spanking a shot at Casillas.
77 min: Always hard to take a tactical viewpoint in the midst of an MBM, but I reckon the defensive midfielders in white – Khedira and Alonso – need to take a hefty share of the blame for this scoreline. They've really struggled to shut down Barça in the areas just off the front.
78 min: This GOLTV commentator sounds great. "He's also compared Messi's wonderful control to that of a 'squirrel on a telegraph'," writes Andrew Orlowicz. "David Villa's finishing is somehow similar to a surgeon's scalpel AND a Peregrine falcon. I don't really get it..."
80 min: A Real attack, of all things, and Puyol clatters Benzema to pick up a booking. The free-kick is nodded away by Pique. "El Orgasmico" suggests Jeff Woodman. "El Spankio" offers Rich Nind.
81 min: Di Maria shanks a cross behind Valdes's goal. Barça have made Real look incredibly, miserably ordinary tonight.
83 min: Ray Hudson is apparently the GOLTV commentator with the eye for an image. Thanks for the heads up. He also once said Fabio Capello was "braver than a matador in pink knickers and high heels", writes Raelin Cawes. Good work.
85 min: This is petering out now, which pretty much suits both sides to an extent. Real can't wait to get out of there. Xavi heads off to be replaced by Keita and Pedro heads off for Jeffren.
87 min: "El Castratico?" isn't far off from Pacific Silverworks. Ronaldo gets a little tetchy after a bit of a whump from Puyol down in the corner.
GOAL!!! Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid (Jeffren 90) In a lazy, almost off-hand, fashion Barça make it five. Bojan gets loose down the right, slings the ball low into the centre, Iniesta can't get there, but Jeffren can.
RED CARDS A-GO-GO!!! Sergio Ramos off for one after a horrible tackle on Messi. He then shoves Puyol in the face. Plot well and truly lost. That initial 'tackle' on Messi was basically a lash out, a straightforward kick from behind.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeep!!! All over. A finer display of footballing excellence you'd have to travel a long way through time and space to find.
So Barcelona's title then? Hard to see otherwise after that. It was indeed an El Smashico, El Thrashico or El Kickassico. Stunning stuff. Thanks for all your emails – it has been an utter deluge which is superb, though obviously means I haven't had chance to use them all. Stick around on site for Sid Lowe's match report. But, from me, cheerio!