Andy Mitten

The farce of a Monday night Clasico

Andy Mitten

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Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have urged their players to refrain from talking about it - but that's easier said than done.

Both clubs have games this weekend and want to avoid adding to the pre-match hype which is building weeks before Barcelona entertain Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season.

Yet the players are asked about little else; and the media are then slightly disappointed when Iker Casillas says how much he respects Guardiola or Lionel Messi talks respectfully about Real Madrid. It's hardly the fighting talk that works so well in headlines.

El Clasico is likely to be crucial to the outcome of La Liga. Barca won both clashes last season, but had Madrid triumphed just once, they would have been champions.

The game was scheduled to be played on the weekend of November 27/28 and most people expected a star Saturday night billing to justify what is by far and away the biggest game in Spain - and probably in world football.

To the great frustration of fans seeking to organise travel plans, in Spain games are only confirmed eight days before matches are played.

Barca put a few thousand tickets on sale on September 2, with members paying between €74 for a seat in the nose-bleed seats high on the third tier to €219 for a main stand view. However that is not the case for those fans who stump up for season tickets at the start of the year and ultimately benefit from a lower price than the Premiership average of £35 a ticket.

If you just want to see the Madrid game then they'll pay till it hurts for the privilege. Some Barca fans cash in on the demand and tout their tickets outside the ground, with the €300 received - dependent on the weather, the importance of the Clasico and the kick-off time - contributing a big chunk towards their season ticket. Many fans pay similar amounts for tickets through licensed agencies.

For this Clasico, out-of-town fans booked their trips to Barcelona to encompass both Saturday and Sunday night possibilities for the derby. In reserving trains, coaches and planes back home on Monday morning, they thought they'd be safe to see the game.

Not so: the match has been scheduled to take place on the Monday night at 9pm.

Awkward kick-off times are nothing new in Spain. There's a 10pm game every Saturday night and Barca even started one league match at five past midnight a few years ago. The memory of fans on the metro home just three hours before sunrise still lingers.

The date shift was greeted with disapproval by 90 per cent of both sets of fans - though just 600 of the 98,000 fans present will be from Madrid.

Various excuses have been given. There are elections in Catalonia on the Sunday which mean the police force and many civil servants will be working, while Saturday night was ruled out ostensibly because Barca have a Champions League match the previous Wednesday in Athens.

And it's not only the locals that will be punished: what of the fans in Asia and North America whom the Spanish league seems so keen to court? It will be the middle of the night on one continent and the middle of a working day in the other.

No, it makes no sense to me either. But on the plus side, the shops will be open - should any Barca fans wish to purchase a pig's head to launch at the Madrid players before kick-off.

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