Pep Guardiola won his first five matches against Real Madrid following his appointment as Barcelona coach in 2008, with his side posting four clean sheets in the process. Those victories included a 6-2 success at the Estadio Bernabeu in May 2009, and a 5-0 thrashing of their visitors at Camp Nou just over a year ago.
This year, however, Real have closed the head-to-head gap on the team they have finished runners-up to in the past three La Liga title races. The arch-rivals drew 1-1 in the league on 16 April, when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both scored penalties, before the Portuguese attacker hit the only goal for Los Merengues in extra time of their Copa del Rey final four days later. And although Barcelona avenged that defeat by lifting the Spanish Supercopa in August, it took a last-gasp effort from their Argentinian No10 to snatch a 5-4 aggregate victory (a 2-2 draw in the capital preceded a 3-2 home win in Catalonia).
Heading into the latest edition of El Clásico on Saturday, it’s Real, and not Barça, who occupy pole position in the Spanish top flight. And not only do Jose Mourinho’s men sit three points clear of Guardiola’s charges, but they also have a game in hand on the team that will, after the game, head off to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup.
Frank de Boer, who played for Barcelona between 1998 and 2003, believes his former club remain the better side technically. However, the Ajax coach also thinks Real’s physical superiority means there is little to choose between the Spanish superpowers, and has warned La Blaugrana that defeat at the weekend would leave them with a mountain to climb to make it four league crowns in a row.
"The first two games between the two teams [in the Supercopa] showed that Real Madrid have improved since last season," said the man capped 112 times by the Netherlands between 1990 and 2004. "They managed to make it difficult for Barcelona.
"It's difficult to predict the outcome. Both teams are very strong. I think Barcelona are better on a technical level, but Real are better on a physical level.
"It's an important game. If Real win they have a huge advantage. I think it's too early to say that the competition would be over, but they would have a really nice advantage on Barça."
Real have won a record 31 Spanish titles, with Barcelona second on the list on 21.