Mourinho bids to continue Barcelona hex

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho hopes to end the club's recent woes against champions Barcelona when the two bitter rivals lock horns in the season's first Clasico at Camp Nou on Monday.

Unbeaten Real lead the Spanish league by a point from Barcelona and the winner of the fixture would gain a significant edge in the title race, particularly as the dominant duo rarely slip up elsewhere, dropping just nine league points between them so far this season. If Mourinho can win his maiden Clasico, his Real side would go four points clear, but Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has a 100 per cent record in the fixture, including the famous 6-2 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu in May 2009.

Mourinho has masterminded wins over Barcelona in Europe with former clubs Chelsea and Inter Milan and can expect a hostile reception from the fans who watched his Inter outfit beat Guardiola's side in last season's UEFA Champions League semi-final.

"They (the Barcelona fans) will never forgive me for denying them the chance to win the Champions League final at the Santiago Bernabeu and I will get a hostile reception," said Mourinho. "It is not easy facing Barcelona. I beat them with Chelsea and Inter Milan but that was in cup competitions, which is easier."

All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have set the league alight this season and are the top two scorers in the league. Real's Portuguese star Ronaldo leads the scoring charts with 15 goals after a hat-trick in his side's 5-1 win over Athletic Bilbao last time out and he scored two more in the 4-0 Champions League win at Ajax on Tuesday.

Barcelona's Argentine Lionel Messi has 13 league goals after also scoring a hat-trick in his last league match as Barcelona thumped Almeria 8-0 and he has netted in his last ten games in all competitions.

"The Clasico is an important game for us and we are favourites because we are at home," said Barcelona midfielder Xavi. "We have a lot of respect for Madrid but we are playing well and in fine form."

This Madrid team is completely different to last season and we haven't lost in the league or the Champions League.
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo

Barcelona have won their last six league matches, scoring 23 goals in the process, and defeated Panathinaikos 3-0 on Wednesday in the Champions League to qualify for the knockout phase as group winners. Real are also in great shape, having dropped just four points in the league, although their win at Ajax was overshadowed by accusations that Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso got deliberately sent off in order to clear their disciplinary accounts for the next phase.

"This Madrid team is completely different to last season and we haven't lost in the league or the Champions League," explained Ronaldo. "It will be an exciting game at Camp Nou and I think we will win there as we are in good form."

In other matches, surprise package Espanyol travel to sixth-placed Atletico Madrid on Saturday aiming to hold on to their impressive fourth place. "It annoys me that people don't talk about us as we should be getting a lot more credit," said Espanyol striker Luis Garcia. "However, it wouldn't be a good idea for us to set Europe as the target because the first aim is the 42 points to stay up."

Espanyol have been a real force at home with a maximum 18 points from their six games, but the Barcelona-based club have garnered just four points on the road.

Third-placed Villarreal visit bottom side Real Zaragoza, for what will be new Zaragoza coach Javier Aguirre's first home game in charge.