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Clásico hype goes into overdrive

Contrary to what you might have heard, the world will not end on Monday night. The sun will rise on Tuesday morning. And there is life beyond the clásico.* It's just that right now, it doesn't feel like it -- it feels like nothing else matters, like no other games exist, like no other teams do. Every year Barcelona versus Madrid, already the biggest club game in world soccer, seems to get bigger. Even the old title seems worthless now. Derby? No thanks, this is the clásico. It's even moved on from that. Now it's the Super Clásico. Carry on like this and soon we'll run out of superlatives.

And it's certainly superlative. It's almost ridiculous. These are the kind of teams you build playing Championship Manager. The kind of teams you could only build if you cheated playing Championship Manager -- setting up two or three clubs at once and selling yourself all their best players while selling them all your rubbish ones for absurdly inflated prices. Whichever way you look at it, this is probably the most extraordinary club match there has ever been. Until the next time, at least.

In terms of talent per square meter, you could argue that there has never been a game like it. It is possible that no two teams have ever dominated the planet's talent like Barcelona and Madrid do now. If the starting XIs are as anticipated, there will be 13 world champions on the pitch. David Villa, top scorer at the World Cup and the European Championships will be there. So will the last four -- yes, four (Messi, Messi, Ronaldo, Kaká) -- top scorers in the Champions League.

Speaking of them, the last two winners of the Balón d'Or will be there -- and the extraordinary statistics presented by Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, statistics that got even better last weekend when both men scored hat-tricks, have already been covered. More than that, Messi and Ronaldo might not just be great players now; they are on course to smash historic records. Against Almería, Messi scored his 100th goal for Barcelona aged just 23. Ronaldo has just scored his 50th goal for Madrid. It took him only 53 games.

That's just the start, just two men. The reason the last three Balon d'Or winners aren't on the pitch is that Kaká is injured. The man who won it before that -- Fabio Cannavaro -- left Madrid, no longer considered good enough. And the man who won it before that -- Ronaldinho -- was also forced out, this time from FC Barcelona. This year's winner is likely to be playing on Monday too: Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Iker Casillas, Leo Messi and Ronaldo are among the favorites. The only other man who could win it is Wesley Sneijder or possibly, at a push, Arjen Robben -- and Madrid didn't want either of them any more.

It's not just that they are the very best players in the world but that all over the pitch, you find players who can lay claim to being the world's best in their position. OK, almost all over the pitch: the world's best left back probably won't be playing on Monday (although if Marcelo continues to improve at this rate, who knows?). But the world's best right back might. The world's best center backs, too. And the world's best central midfielders, the world's best wide-men, the world's best playmakers, and the world's best strikers.

Real Madrid are the most expensive side ever assembled; Barcelona are the only team to have won six trophies in a row. Some believe that this is the greatest side they have ever had, the fruit of an extraordinary generation of talent built on over 20 years of footballing puritanism. Plus almost €150 million ($199 million) worth of players.

And as if all that wasn't enough, they are managed by Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Two years ago, Guardiola won the rare treble of League, Cup and European Cup. A feat matched by Mourinho last May.

No wonder they seem almost unstoppable. In fact, in Spain it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they really are unstoppable. Sure they wobbled at the start of the season but they have both won their last six games. At the weekend, their aggregate score against their opponents was 13-1. Yes, 13. Madrid scored five; Barcelona eight. Between them, they have 20 wins, 3 draws and a solitary defeat in 24 league games. They have scored 33 goals each. Ronaldo alone has more goals than nine teams.

Their dominance goes back further, too. Last season, Barcelona won 31 drew 6 and lost just one. Madrid won 31, drew 3 and lost 4. But two of those were against Barcelona. They might even have won 32 and drawn one game fewer but on the final day they already knew the title had escaped them and went through the motions against relegation-threatened Málaga, caring little about the result. They broke a historic record for the number of La Liga points, a record that went back over 70 years. The only catch was that Barcelona broke it too. Madrid finished on 96 points, Barcelona on 99.

Meanwhile, the season before, Madrid's defeat to Barcelona -- which left them with no chance of winning the league -- saw them slip into depression and slump to five consecutive defeats. But before that they had gone into the clásico with just two defeats between them in 18 games each. That's two defeats in 36 matches combined. In other words, not including the games in which they faced each other in total Real Madrid and Barcelona have won 111 of their last 132 games, losing just six between them. And look at last year's stats again: but for the two clásicos, Madrid might have owned the league.

With each passing day, it does feel more and more like no other games exist, like no other teams exist. In a way, they don't. Mourinho insisted that Monday night's match would not be definitive but few really believed him. On the face of it, just 13 matches into the season, it is absurd but this is already being treated like a title decider. Scratch the surface a bit and it's not even that absurd. You could certainly make a case for it being the first half of the title decider, with the second leg to come at the Santiago Bernabéu in April (and, incidentally, don't be surprised if Mourinho treats it like that).

It feels like you can forget the other 36 matches. Of course the clásico is only decisive if both sides keep on winning the vast majority of their other matches, but the evidence suggests they will. No one can stop these two sides except each other: Ronaldo has never scored against Barcelona; Messi has never scored against Mourinho.

Cristiano Ronaldo called it a six-pointer. A 96-pointer, more like. No wonder everyone is acting like Monday is the end of the world, like there are no other teams, like there are no other matches. Like there is nothing after it. There is, but it won't be the same. Maybe it's the relentless hype, maybe it's the excitement, maybe it's the power of personality, the stardust sprinkled all over this game, maybe it's the fact that we have been waiting for this since the season started, but right now it's hard to avoid the feeling that something will shift on Monday night. Something big. The sun will rise on Tuesday but nothing will be the same again. On Tuesday morning we'll already be counting down to the next one.

* Disclaimer: This column will not be held responsible in the event of the sun failing to rise on Tuesday morning or the world ending on Monday. There might not be life beyond the clásico.

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