Often, sports are overrun with hyperbole. How many times can a game, a match or a fight be billed as the game, the match or the fight of the year, the decade or the century? Typically, we fall into the hyperbole trap when two rivals are set to square off. The bitter rivals narrative is easily understandable. Two people or teams compete to see which is best. There's a winner and a loser - only when there isn't and there's a tie, which is wholly unsatisfying.
I preface this post with a warning on hyperbole and rivalry because what I am about to say is assuredly not hyperbole. This afternoon the two best soccer players on the planet will be on opposing sides as the two best soccer teams in the world face each other. Lionel Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona. Real Madrid. El Clásico.
In order to get you ready for today's Clásico I've rounded up a bunch of links covering everything from the sociopolitical implications that fuel this rivalry to a tactical breakdown of how the teams are likely to play. Vamanos...
First, beyond the rivalry this game is vitally important in the La Liga standings. Barcelona can pull to within one point of first place Madrid with a win. Each team has five league games yet to play.
Here's a nice primer on why these two clubs are such bitter rivals. The history between these two cities/regions makes our hatred of Dallas seem like child's play. There are very real social, political and economic reasons behind this rivalry.
Every great rivalry needs a villain. Enter Madrid's Pepe. Grantland's Chris Ryan writes about a player unafraid to dabble in the dark arts. Bonus, Ryan's piece includes a 4+ minute video of Pepe stepping on people, punching people and fouling people titled "Pepe - The Assassin".
The tacticians over at Zonal Marking preview the approach, formation, team selection and tactics likely to be employed by Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
Speaking of tactics, this piece dates back to Spain's triumph in the 2010 World Cup, but it's as good a read as you'll find on how Barca's 4-2-3-1 has permeated world futbol.
Need a break from clicking on links and reading? Check this stunning animation from Barca's 5-0 thrashing of Madrid back in 2010...
Want even more of an artistic look at one of the main players in this match. The Classical has a fantastic hand-drawn "Focus On: Lionel 'Leo' Messi".
Continuing with a cartoonish theme, Grant Wahl has a fun interview with the colorful Ray Hudson, who along with Phil Schoen will call the game for GolTv today.
ESPN.com's Graham Hunter, who literally wrote a book on Barcelona, previews the match in light of both teams having played Champions League Semifinal fixtures midweek.
Finally, if this game is not enough for you there's a very real chance these two teams will play each other in the Champions League finals, which Spain's national team manager contemplates here.
Artwork by Matthew Craven via The Classical