With the date and kick off time for the first Clásico 2013-14 between eternal rivals FC Barcelona v Real Madrid now set for Saturday October 6th at 6 pm CET, there couldn't be more contrast between the atmosphere in the two camps.
Firmly esconced at the top of La Liga, Barça have bagged 8 victories out of 8 with an impressive 28 goals for and only 6 against and are already five points clear of the disappointing Blancos.
To make matters worse, Barcelona's main contender in this early stage of the season is none other than Diego Simeone's excellent Atlético de Madrid, who have also won a record 8 games out of 8 and are only trailing on goal difference.
Just a couple of seasons ago Blanco fans poked fun at their Colchonero
rivals when sarcastic placards which said 'Se Busca Rival Digno Para Derby
Decente' - 'A Worthy Rival For A Decent Derby Required' - were held up
at Santiago Bernabéu.
Looking at Atlético's position in the table, and particularly after losing to Los Colchoneros 0-1 in the same Bernabéu in September, I bet those Real Madrid supporters are eating their words now.
Inevitably, the early results run is consistent with Barcelona's form over the last few seasons but recent changes on the technical staff - Carlo Ancelotti for Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid and Gerardo 'Tata' Martino for Francesc 'Tito' Vilanova at FC Barcelona have also had significant effects.
Despite being a relative unknown to most culers before
he arrived at Camp Nou, Tata Martino comes across as firm, intelligent
and oozing Barça DNA - in short, the perfect candidate to run a dressing
room full of stars such as the one at Camp Nou.
Bearing in mind the stresses and strains of a fixture calendar which will not only include La Liga but also the final rounds of the Champions League and the Copa del Rey towards the end of the season, Martino has successfully introduced squad rotations, which at the same time means that a larger number of players are more fully committed to his new project.
I was extremely pleased to see him show confidence in in promising young central defender Bartra thereby proving that long-desired star signing was unnecessary.
The fact that he's Argentinian means that he has the authority to substitute Messi for the last 15 minutes without causing too many sulks and even unpolished diamond Alexis is starting to shine.
other hand, Carlo Ancelotti, having coached Juventus, Milan, Chelsea and
Paris St Germain amongst others, looked like a very safe bet when he
arrived at Santiago Bernabéu over the summer.
However, Merengue land is an inhospitable place and particularly after the combative Jose Mourinho, Ancelotti appears weak, ineffectual and personality-less and incapable of keeping at bay sectors of the Madrid crowd, understandably unhappy after over a decade of FC Barcelona dominance.
To make matters worse, whilst Tata Martino brought with him a couple of trusted and experienced colleagues with him from Argentina to join the technical staff,
Ancelotti has invented jobs for his son on the coaching team and even more amazingly, his daughter's boyfriend is now the first team's dietician.
However, the real difference between the state of affairs Barça and Madrid becomes obvious when comparing the two clubs' respective star signings - Brazilian Neymar Jr. and Welshman Gareth Bale.
cost Barcelona around €67 million, an insulting amount of money without
doubt, but in this day and age of shirt sales and multimillion dollar
television contracts, he seems worth every penny.
There were doubts about whether he would fit in given his high media profile and many, including former coach Johan Cruyff, suggested that two superstar players such as Neymar and Messi on the same team would definitely be a source of conflict.
However, the Brazilian has only had words of praise for the Argentinian, he has changed his ostentatious haircut and if anything has been overgenerous in his assists to other Barça strikers when he's had a good chance of scoring himself.
Furthermore, during Messi's recent absence due to injury, Neymar had the opportunity to lead the Barça attack with a particularly impressive performance in the 4-1 victory over Valladolid, which means the Catalans will no longer suffer such a high degree of Messi dependence.
On the other
hand, what we've seen of Real Madrid's star signing Gareth Bale, who
cost an incredible €101 million, has been pretty disappointing so far.
Admittedly he missed Los Blancos' preseason schedule but since his arrival, he has been almost continually injured and has only made a couple of brief and uneventful appearances.
It also appears that doctors detected a permanent slipped disk before he signed the contract so his presence at the Bernabéu has definitely got off to a bad start and it looks like it will only get worse.
Add the fact that Real Madrid let two of their most effective players - Ozil and Higuaín - go cheap, Benzema is off form and midfield powerhouse Xabi Alonso still hasn't returned from injury yet this season, and the perspectives for the white world are looking distinctly grey.
Obviously, this is El Clásico and it's perfectly possible that Real Madrid turn the tables and thrash Barça in Camp Nou with Bale putting away an incredible hat trick, which turns him into La Liga's new star player.
However, whilst pigs might fly, we're sitting here in Barcelona feeling quietly confident of our chances in the first Clásico 2013-14.