Barcelona and Real Madrid agree on one thing heading into Monday's "clasico" -- the fate of the Spanish league title won't be decided by the result of the highly anticipated match at the Camp Nou.
"Whoever wins will only be the champion of the league this week, while the one that loses won't be," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said Sunday. "We've spent too much time talking about it. I can't wait for it to start." Madrid coach Jose Mourinho concurred.
"Nobody goes home crying if they lose," he said. "No one goes home with the championship lost. It's not a game that will be decisive." However, Mourinho increased the pressure on referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez by stating his unhappiness with his appointment. Gonzalez has officiated in two games between the teams, with Barcelona winning both times, in 1999 and 2005.
"The statistics are there -- Barcelona is happy with Iturralde Gonzalez and Real Madrid is less happy," the Portuguese coach said.
Aside from being a matchup between two of the world's biggest clubs and superstars -- Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo -- the match will present the best measurement of how far Madrid has come under Mourinho, who used to work at Barcelona as a translator before becoming an assistant coach when Guardiola played for the club.
"He's the best," Guardiola said. "He convinces his players of his ways because he is the best or one of the best." Both teams are at full strength with Madrid trio Gonzalo Higuain, Sami Khedira and Ricardo Carvalho having been cleared to play after missing the team's 4-0 win over Ajax on Tuesday due to injury.
Madrid has won seven straight games to lead the standings by one point over Barcelona, which has won six straight.
Madrid hasn't beaten its bitter rival since May 2008, losing a record four straight. But Guardiola said the teams now are evenly matched.
"I think Barcelona has a very good team, but I also think Madrid does too," he said. "To think Barcelona has a better team is not fair. They've always had very quick players who can get to goal with few touches. Madrid has always been a team based on the counterattack and they continue being that." Mourinho said he won't alter his team's style and will instead look to identify some of Barcelona's weaknesses and exploit them, adding that the 90,000-plus fans and millions of worldwide viewers can expect a world-class match if everyone does their job.
"I'm worried about my team, like always. We won't abandon our own game-plan for Barca," Mourinho said. "We need to find their weakest point and take positives from that. If the players only worry about playing football, there's enough quality there to have a game for all of the world (to love), and we have the responsibility to provide the world with a match the world can love. These are two teams that could be the best _ if not the best, then very close (to it)."
Whereas Barcelona has won eight trophies in two seasons under Guardiola, Mourinho has taken over a club without a title in more than two years.
"I hope my team has sufficient mental strength to lose and still believe in itself or to win and to keep its feet on the ground," Mourinho said. "I don't want this team's self-esteem to change whether we win or lose the game."