BARCELONA // Spain is talking about little else.
Forget the economic crisis and the associated worries of rising interest rates and unemployment, the prospect of an almost unprecedented four clasicos in 18 days between Barcelona and Real Madrid is dominating the country's agenda.
The first game is tonight, a league match in the Bernabeu when Madrid will try to avenge the humiliation of November's 5-0 defeat to Barca.
The last time the clubs met four times in quick succession was 1916, when Santiago Bernabeu was a striker in the Madrid team. Barca won the first leg of a cup tie, Madrid the second after a delayed train meant Barca started the game with nine men.
With goal difference not applied, a third game was needed which finished 6-6 after extra time - meaning a fourth game decided who would play the mighty Athletic Bilbao in the final.
Catalan reports claim that Madrid benefited from a dubious penalty, an offside goal and another when the Barca goalkeeper was impeded.
So angry were the Barca players that they left the field at 2-4 in extra time because of the biased referee. They had a point: the referee, Jose Angel Berraondo, used to play for Real Madrid.
Despite the defeat, Barca were considered moral victors and met by a huge crowd when their train arrived back in Barcelona.
Tonight's referee is not a former player of either club, but such is the paranoia among the media that they will go to any lengths to discover if the referee has any long-lost cousins who once supported Madrid or Barca.
Sometimes the clubs are right to be suspicious. Barca yesterday presented a lawsuit for €6.2 million (Dh32.989m) against the Madrid-based radio station, COPE, after one of their journalists linked the club with doping practices. "Barcelona considers these comments to have damaged its image, prestige and reputation," said an official club communique.
All manner of side issues also are in play. Madrid announced that they will charge between €80 and €325 for the home leg of their Champions League semi-final against Barca. The Catalans will charge between €85 and €250, rises which seem gross when the country is in recession and 10 times those being charged by the other two semi-final clubs, Schalke 04 and Manchester United.
Most people will watch the games on television and the issue for them is the outcome of the games, with the high and mighty of world football offering their opinions.
Fabio Capello, the England manager who once coached Madrid, said: "My three points of reference in football are Cruyff's Ajax, Sacchi's Milan and this Barcelona. Barcelona are an example, not for their passing game but for the pressure they put when losing the ball." Capello then described Ronaldo and Messi as the best two players in the world.
Despite the praise, Barca players consider their greatest strength to be their level-headedness.
"We're just regular boys, very uncomplicated in the dressing room who love football and have a lot of respect for other people," said Xavi. "Maybe being normal isn't a great selling point - but it appeals to people, maybe that's why we are applauded off the pitch so often at other grounds."
Such generous gestures are unlikely to be extended to the Bernabeu tonight. Madrid's fans can be as sporting as any, but with three more games against Barca, the last thing they will want to do is give the Catalans any encouragement.
Getafe v Sevilla 8pm
Malaga v Real Mallorca 8pm
Almeria v Valencia 10pm
Real Madrid v Barcelona midnight
Deportivo v Racing Santander 7pm
Levante v Hercules 7pm
Real Sociedad v Sporting Gijon 7pm
Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao 9pm
Espanyol v Atletico Madrid 11pm
Villarreal v Real Zaragoza 11pm
Primera Liga table
Team P W D L GD P
Barcelona 31 27 3 1 69 84 Real Madrid 31 24 4 3 50 76
Valencia 31 18 6 7 16 60 Villarreal 31 16 6 9 12 54
Sevilla 31 13 7 11 2 46 Athletic Bilbao 31 14 3 14 2 45
Atletico Madrid 31 13 6 12 7 45 Espanyol 31 14 2 15 -5 44
Mallorca 31 11 6 14 -9 39 Levante 31 11 6 14 -7 39
Sporting Gijon 31 9 11 11 -6 38 Racing 31 9 10 12 -14 37
R Sociedad 31 11 2 18 -14 35 Osasuna 31 9 8 14 -1 35
Deportivo 31 8 11 12 -15 35 Getafe 31 9 7 15 -9 34
Real Zaragoza 31 8 9 14 -13 33 Hercules 31 8 6 17 -20 30
Malaga 31 8 6 17 -23 30
Almeria 31 5 11 15 -22 26