A LOOK AT LA LIGA
For the managers of the La Liga giants, the international breaks are like islands in the ocean; if they can reach the next one safely it's time to assess exactly where they are on the journey.
Neither Ernesto Valverde nor Zinedine Zidane will feel they are cruising or that their ship is tilting. Both are safe in the hot-seat but neither is exactly sitting comfortably.
Let's be honest, with a third of the season gone it has been a mediocre season. Barcelona and Real Madrid are tied at the top with Atlético Madrid and Sevilla in close attendance. It's business as usual with little to fill the pages of the multitude of daily sports newspapers so far this season.
Since the chances of signing Neymar evaporated there's been little to focus on at the Nou Camp. It alternates between "should Valverde go?" when they struggle away from home to "all is ok" when they generally blow away the opposition in Catalonia. The club are well placed in their Champions League group, and all is fairly settled.
Surely the saga of Gareth Bale has run its ground after many months. He lurches from villain to hero to villain status on a weekly basis. They yearn for the days when Cristiano Ronaldo would fill four pages with colourful antics. Again, Zidane's status is reasonably safe given the fact that they are level on points with their great rivals and ably placed in their European adventure.
There is little drama and certainly no crisis.
This is a season that is yet to explode into action. Everything is just ticking over.
Lionel Messi continues to show his magnificence, Antoine Griezmann is still a prince rather than a footballing king and nobody else is really emerging to hog the headlines. Eden Hazard is showing flashes of the talent that persuaded Madrid to break the bank, but we are waiting for the Real deal.
Hopefully all that is missing is the explosive ingredient of the Clásico. We'll not get into the politics of re-arranging the fixture but the clash of the giants and the hype that precedes the meeting and following inquests are really needed.
It would have ignited the season when it was originally scheduled but it's new timing, a week before Christmas, can't come quickly enough.
The season needs talking points. We need international teammates squabbling, egos clashing, emerging talent establishing itself, incredible goals, coaches cajoling and spectacular events that we can talk about for weeks afterwards over a beer and tapa.
Away from the Big Two, it's all predictable. Atlético and Sevilla are in the bridesmaids' positions and Valencia are faring okay in Europe - level pegging with Ajax and Chelsea. Everything is fair-to-middling.
Basically, the postcard from Spain reads "all well..." and there's a whole load of space to fill after that.
Roll on El Clásico!