Tim Stannard looks at six storylines that could unfold in Saturday's clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Will Messi break Zarra's La Liga record?
'Madrid is the perfect machine,' apparently. Which must make Liverpool a little scared. But do Madrid only look good because they're playing dross? Here's hoping...
One year after joining Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur and Gareth Bale has learned that the Superstar Galactico at the Santiago Bernabéu is only the Superstar Galactico until the next one comes along. Unless you happen to be King Cristiano Ronaldo, who has it in his contract that all official photos of the player will always be that little bit shinier than any other footballer at the club. Along with the clause insisting that the Portuguese forward have exclusivity on any new hairstyles, to avoid the wholly embarrassing David Beckham/Guti double ponytail affair of 2004.
The big Superstar Galactico signing of the summer is undoubtedly James Rodríguez and you can bet your bottom that Florentino Pérez will be hinting to Carlo Ancelotti that the Colombian should get a runabout in Cardiff in Tuesday's European Super Cup clash against Sevilla, whether the footballer is ready or not.
However, it is Bale who is set to be the key figure in the all-Spanish affair with both Rodríguez and Toni Kroos still easing their way back into the scheme of things at their new club and Ronaldo definitely not quite right with all his bumps and niggles.
This reliance on a Welshman playing on home turf has not been lost on the Madridista press who are in frenzied awe of what is admittedly a more muscular, athletic and extremely fit-looking Bale. 'Super Bale Goes Home,' declares the front cover of Monday's Marca.
Whilst the pre-season matches for Madrid in the USA did not exactly go well, Bale was certainly the high point, demonstrating how a decent bit of holiday rest and a proper pre-season with Madrid could be of a huge benefit.
If Real Madrid are ready to launch an all-out attack on Sevilla, the Europa League holders, then it could be quite a sight with Ronaldo, Bale, Rodríguez, Benzema, Kroos and Modric all charging forward. Quite what will happen at the back is another issue entirely, except for the fact that Sergio Ramos is going to have to repeat the wide-eyed, desperately-back-pedalling displays perfected in Brazil.
Another key figure in Tuesday's ham-tinged encounter will be Iker Casillas. Although the most recent challenger to the goalkeeper's throne, Diego López, has been seen off with a move to AC Milan, a certain Keylor Navas has arrived.
Unlike the horror show for Casillas in the World Cup, Navas had a fine time with Costa Rica to top off an impressive season for Levante, and has pointed out that he is not at Madrid "because I won the lottery". Casillas is going to have to play about 20 times better than his displays in Brazil, as the notion - kicked off by José Mourinho - that the club captain is not that good, really, has taken root in the Real Madrid supporters' collective DNA.
Fighting for a spot is not going to be an issue for Bale, who is set to have the right wing all to himself this season, especially if the unfortunate Angel di María is offloaded to a club willing to pay a hefty transfer fee. A homecoming clash in Cardiff is a fine place for the Welshman to build on a solid first season with Madrid, with a spectacular second, despite the newly arrived competition.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter
Welsh fans, make the most of it - I can't see Bale playing that much in Wales for the next few years...- quoasis