|Pep Guardiola got the better of Jose Mourinho last season but Real Madrid look to be a stronger side [AFP]
Jose Mourinho wants to prove there has been a shift in the balance of power towards his Real Madrid side when the La Liga leaders host bitter rivals Barcelona in the opening 'Clasico' of the campaign on Saturday.
Real president Florentino Perez poached the flamboyant Portuguese, a Barca assistant coach in the late 1990s, from
Inter Milan at the end of the 2009-10 season to try to wrest the Spanish title back from the Catalan capital.
The consensus, at least among the Madrid fans, is that Real are closer than ever to matching the team many consider the best club side ever and several hundred million TV viewers worldwide will tune in for kickoff to witness the latest installment of one of the most intense rivalries in the game.
Real's form ahead of the clash that could go a long way to deciding the title has been hugely impressive.
They have won their last 10 league games - and their last 15 in all competitions, equalling a club record - and lead
Barca by three points with roughly a third of the season played and with a game in hand.
"You never know in football, there are always surprises," Mourinho, who has a habit of rattling his former club, said after Real's 3-0 Champions League victory at Ajax Amsterdam on Wednesday.
"But right now we feel more confident and we are a better team than last season," said the former Chelsea manager.
Pep Guardiola's side, chasing a club record-equalling fourth consecutive domestic title, have been almost impeccable at their Nou Camp stadium in La Liga, winning eight and drawing one and scoring 39 goals without reply.
However, they have managed only two victories in six away games, scoring eight and conceding seven.
Playmaker Xavi said on Wednesday that statistics were meaningless once the players took to the field and unexpected events can, and quite often do, change the game in a moment.
Recent 'Clasicos' have included several mass brawls and a slew of red cards, as well as some outstanding individual
"It's true that Madrid are in good shape," Xavi, who heads to Japan next week with his team mates for the Club World Cup, told a news conference.
"The 'Clasicos' have nothing to do with statistics and anything can happen"
Barcelona midfielder Xavi
"They are a bit better but that does not mean anything," said the Spain international, who will make his 600th appearance for Barca if selected on Saturday.
"The 'Clasicos' have nothing to do with statistics and anything can happen."
Guardiola has enjoyed the upper hand over Real since the former Barca and Spain midfielder took over as coach at the end of the 2007-08 season.
He has engineered victories in seven out of 11 'Clasicos' and after Mourinho arrived at Real, when their rivalry grew yet
more intense, he has three wins, three draws and only one defeat, in the King's Cup final in April, Mourinho's only
silverware in his first season at the helm.
Messi v Ronaldo
Saturday's game will match up not only two of the game's most influential coaches, but also the world's two best players.
Argentina forward Lionel Messi and the man he replaced as World Player of the Year, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, are joint top of the La Liga scoring chart with 17 goals each, although Messi boasts by far the better record in 'Clasicos'.
The 24-year-old has netted 13 goals in 15 matches against Real, including two in last season's Champions League semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu, while Ronaldo, 26, has three goals in nine games against Barca.
The performance of each team's star player could help determine who is victorious in the upcoming 'El Clasico' and who takes away the Spanish League crown this season.
Whether we are on the brink of seeing Real Madrid usurp Barcelona remains to be seen but one thing is for sure - right now, there is little between them.