Xavi (left) greets Carlo Ancelotti (right) in January prior to the Supercup game in Saudi Arabia. / PABLO GARCÍA / RFEF

Another clash of Clásico Titans

Real Madrid may be well on track to winning the league title and possibly the Champions League, but Barcelona have a huge point to prove for the future

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

As far as Clásicos go, the 282nd edition has less riding on it. But don't be fooled, this is one of the most important ones in years.

It's inevitable that Real Madrid will win La Liga; it's true that Barcelona's only motivation is to finish in the top four; and the 15-point gap between them is a fair reflection of their respective seasons.

Many scoffed when Barça's president declared "Barcelona are back" in the first week of the new year. This weekend will be a measure of his words.

The club was in the midst of a deep crisis when they met Real Madrid in their first meeting in October. Koeman was about to be dismissed as they lost four out of six games. The club was broke; the fans had lost all faith.

Five months later the turnaround is remarkable. Xavi's homecoming lifted the mood, but the on-field improvement was slow. The club used their imagination in the winter transfer market to recruit Aubameyang, Traoré and Alves at no cost. The investment of a reported €55 million to bring Ferran Torres back to Spain looks wise.

Suddenly, FC Barcelona is a force again. There's competition for places rather than a headcount every weekend. The club has its identity back and the fans are proud again. The old guard of Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are no longer carrying the team. Along with Alves, they are schooling the new kids on "the Barça way".

Results have improved and the goals are flowing; they've scored four per-game against Valencia, Napoli, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna. Everyone recognises that there's a long way to go. This weekend we'll find out just how far.

Real Madrid are always the yardstick. They made Europe sit up and take notice when they pulled off the magnificent comeback to knock PSG out of the Champions League. Many people are telling me they've peaked and "... they can't win the Champions League, can they?"

Sunday evening at the Santiago Bernabéu will give us an indication. I think that only Liverpool are playing with more exuberance than Barça right now. It's an examination of whether the Real Madrid old guard can out play the energetic, new-look Barcelona. If they can, this is football's equivalent of the famous "Last Dance" of Michael Jordan in the NBA.

Ancelotti is destined to become the first man to win the league in Italy, France, Germany, England and Spain. This weekend's clash is a test of whether he's good enough to win his fourth Champions League title as a coach.

His team is wise, measured, and accomplished. In Benzema they have a player who I believe has achieved "Galáctico" status this season.

It's mouth-watering, it's intriguing. May the best team win!