They’ll be heading down La Castellana tonight more in expectation than hope.
Barcelona are apparently not what they once were, although what they are now was good enough to keep Manchester City at arm’s length for 180 minutes and also to win 7-0 at home last weekend.
They lost their last two away games in La Liga though, at Real Sociedad and Valladolid, at it will be those thoughts which dominate the minds of those Real Madrid fans as they make their way down one of the longest and most famous avenues in their city.
They’ll be demanding a win, of course, but they used to do that back when Pep Guardiola’s Barca side ruled the roost both domestically and in Europe; a time when the Catalans inflicted two of the most embarrassing results in Real Madrid’s history upon them, a 6-2 defeat in front of their own fans in May 2009 and then a 5-0 loss at the Nou Camp 18 months later.
If, as many suggest, the balance of power is shifting back to the Spanish capital – with Atletico Madrid performing wonders this season under Diego Simeone – then this would be a good time to show it, but as unfathomable as that may seem Real do really have bigger fish to fry than Barcelona right now.
It is 12 years since Zinedine Zidane’s stunning volley beat Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park to seal a ninth European Cup for the most successful side in the competition’s history.
It was a third triumph in five years, and the familiar sight of white-shirted players parading the distinctive trophy around a continental city was one that we were expecting to see again and again. They’ve not been in a final since.
Their Champions League record in the following years features six last-16 exits, one quarter-final loss and four semi-final defeats, including one in each of the last three seasons.
In those 12 years Real have developed a habit of being knocked of the competition they crave most of all in the most dramatic of ways.
There was a loss to a Monaco side for whom Fernando Morientes, on loan from Real, scored in both legs, defeats to unheralded Lyon, a 5-0 aggregate drubbing by Liverpool, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi cutting through their defences, a penalty shootout against Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowski’s four goals last season. You name it they’ve done it, yet the 10th title, ‘La Decima’ as they call it, remains out of reach.
In the summer steps were taken to resolve that issue by appointing Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian won the European Cup twice as a player and has won it twice as a manager, a third having escaped him in the most dramatic of manners in Istanbul in 2005.
If anyone can drag Real Madrid back to what they once took for granted in the early days of the competition’s history in the late 1950s it is him, and you’d suspect that he’d sacrifice winning La Liga – where a win tonight would put Real seven points clear of Barca – if it meant victory in the Lisbon final in May. He’s surely not alone either.
A win tonight will be demanded of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and company, but even the biggest match in club football has to be put into perspective.
Real have been drawn to face Borussia Dortmund again in the Champions League, something which led to Iker Casillas posting a somewhat menacing message of ‘#revenge’ on Instagram. Dortmund became the latest in a long line of teams to knock the Whites out of the competition last season.
But in this campaign, with Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema in occasionally unstoppable form, with Xabi Alonso controlling things from the centre of the midfield, with Luka Modric hitting heights that perhaps not even he thought possible, and with a defence which set a club record by not conceding a goal in eight successive games in January, everything looks to be in place.
Guardiola and Bayern Munich remain the huge block in the road to the Portuguese capital – where it could already be written that Ronaldo lifts the trophy? – whilst of course there’s Barcelona, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain too.
With the Champions League commanding their full focus though, Real Madrid can finally end their 12-year drought this season.
Dortmund aren’t what they once were, the same thing that the home fans will be saying about Barcelona tonight.
Ask them to really think about which match they’d rather their team win, and the answer may surprise you.
Bet now on Real Madrid v Barcelona