Copa Clasico Returns as Sideshow to Liga Glory Hunt
Real Madrid and Barcelona resume their historic rivalry on Wednesday when the two teams meet in the first leg of the quarter finals of the Spanish Cup.
The scene is the Santiago Bernabeu before the return leg in Barcelona the following Wednesday and at stake is the first of three prizes the two giants are targeting this season.
With the Champions League resuming in February with both teams in the last 16 and the two locked in a battle at the top of La Liga, the season promises combat on three fronts.
In the league at the weekend the pressure was already starting to show for both teams.
Madrid had to come back to win 2-1 away at Mallorca on Saturday night with late goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon, a result that temporarily opened a gap of eight points on Barcelona in second position.
Twenty-four hours later it was Barcelona's turn to suffer when they gave away a two goal lead at home to Betis, the first goals conceded by the Catalans in the league at home this season, before running out 4-2 winners and reducing the gap back to five points.
Barcelona have already triumphed in the Bernabeu in December with a resounding 3-1 league victory after goalkeeper Victor Valdes had gifted Madrid a first minute lead with an uncustomary mistake.
On that occasion Cristiano Ronaldo was criticized for his performance and despite scoring the winning goal in last season's Spanish Cup final between the two sides, his tally of three goals in 11 games against Barca is subject to debate.
It does not compare favorably with Lionel Messi's total of 13 strikes against Real and a good display from the Portuguese superstar will be key to Real's chances on Wednesday.
Ahead of Wednesday Ronaldo has denied that games against the eternal rival are a problem for him.
"Before matches I am relaxed, pressure means nothing to me and I don't feel any more against Barca," he said.
For Barcelona's talismanic midfielder Xavi Hernandez, matches against Madrid are a highlight.
"I like playing in the Bernabeu, it's a special stadium and an historical game which makes us motivated and makes for an intense match," he said.
"Madrid don't change, they play a direct game with three or four players who can hit you on the counter attack, they are also dangerous from dead balls and we have to be alert in defense," he continued.
"However, we do not hold back, we'll play our usual game to attack and score goals and be as brave as we have been in recent years in the Bernabeu."
Madrid have injury doubts over Sami Khedira and Pepe but expect to welcome back Angel Di Maria, who has been very important for them this season.
Barcelona's long-term casualties Ibrahim Afellay, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez will not be in the Bernabeu, and neither will Seydou Keita who has travelled to the Africa Cup of Nations to play with Mali.