At the absolute peak of their rivalry, El Clasico often seemed more about Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Leo Messi than it seemed about Real Madrid vs. Barcelona. Tonight, for the first time since 2007, neither player will be at the two clubs when they meet for the 247th edition of one of football's greatest clashes.
Unsurprisingly, Messi's departure to Paris Saint-Germain left FC Barcelona on the strains of mud and the coach Ronald Koeman has often borne the brunt of fan frustration for Barcelona's shortcomings this season. Standing on the 7th position in LaLiga table and 3rd in UEFA Champions League group stage, Ronald Koeman is on the brink of losing his job.
The Dutch manager will surely not be relishing Real Madrid's visit to the Camp Nou tonight, but he and his team can perhaps find some confidence after recently recording back-to-back wins for the first time this season. However, if FC Barcelona fail to beat Real Madrid tonight, this would be Koeman's third loss in El Clasico only in his third match as manager.
Contrastingly, the narrative of Real Madrid's season so far certainly feels more positive, but it's a season that has already seen incredible peaks and troughs. In Karim Benzema, Real Madrid boasts perhaps the best player on the planet right now. The French forward has been in scintillating form to start the season, racking up a mind-boggling nine goals and seven assists in just eight La Liga matches.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will feel relieved to have his star player Eden Hazard back tonight from an injury. The Belgian captain missed the last four El Clasico due to several injuries but the Los Blancos will have the services of Eden tonight in Camp Nou. However, the recent 2-1 defeats to Sheriff Tiraspol - perhaps the greatest upset in Champions League history - and Espanyol dampened the mood of Ancelotti's camp considerably.
Despite this El Clasico coming early into the season and Real Madrid holding just a two point advantage over Barcelona in La Liga, there is a sense a victory for either team could prove to be the catalyst for better things to come. A heavy defeat, however, could just as easily plunge one of these clubs into yet another crisis.