El Clasico returns on Wednesday for the first of three meetings between Barcelona and Real Madrid inside the next month, evoking memories of their four showdowns in quick succession back in 2011.
Spain's two biggest clubs face each other in the Copa del Rey semi-finals, while they are also due to meet in LaLiga at the start of March, a game which could define their respective seasons.
It is not the first time the two great rivals have faced off so often in a short period, however, as 2011 saw them battle across LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and Champions League in the space of 18 days.
A contentious period, those games are arguably memorable as much for the off-field histrionics of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola as the actual football…
The (relative) calm before the storm
Opening the quadruple-header was a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu on April 16 which effectively secured Barca the 2010-11 league title. Although the second half entertained, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both scoring from the spot and Raul Albiol getting himself sent off, there was a feeling the two teams were ensuring they did not deplete their fuel reserves ahead of the matches on the horizon. Barca remained eight points clear and on course for LaLiga, but much more was yet to come.
'He criticises the referee when he makes correct decisions' – Mourinho baits Guardiola
If Madrid were able to take one thing away from this historic four-match tussle, it was preventing Barca winning the treble – Ronaldo's extra-time goal sealing a 1-0 Copa del Rey final triumph on April 20, despite Angel Di Maria getting a late red card. A correctly disallowed Pedro goal resulted in some bizarre Guardiola criticism, surmising the assistant "must have great eyesight to spot that Pedro was two centimetres offside". The subsequent response was vintage Mourinho.
"Up until now there was a very small group of coaches who didn't talk about referees and a very large group, in which I am included, who criticise referees," he said. "Now, with Pep's comments, we have started a new era with a third group, in which there is only him, that criticises the referee when he makes correct decisions. This is completely new to me." And so, the bait was laid…
'Mourinho is the f****** chief, the f****** boss'
Mourinho has had an almost unrivalled knack of riling people throughout his career, whether that is journalists, fans, players or opposing coaches. Guardiola fell into the trap ahead of the Champions League semi-final first leg on April 27, responding to his rival's previous comments. "In this room [the Bernabeu's press room], Mourinho is the f****** chief, the f****** boss," Guardiola said.
"He knows all about this [mind games] and I don't want to compete with him in here. I'd just like to remind him that I worked with him for four years [at Barcelona]. He knows me and I know him. I try to learn from Jose on the pitch, but I prefer to learn as little as possible from him off the pitch."
Messi dazzles in 'scandal at the Bernabeu'
The first Champions League meeting was a fractious, ugly affair, as the two sides kicked lumps out of each other, harassed the officials and conspired to get each other sent off at almost every opportunity. Pepe was the one to pay the price, catching Dani Alves with a high foot and consequently shown a red card after most of the Barca team surrounded the referee.
Messi then stepped up, opening the scoring with a neat finish, before wrapping things up with a brilliant solo effort after dribbling past Lassana Diarra, Albiol and Sergio Ramos. Mourinho – who was sent off for his protestations after Pepe's dismissal – labelled it a "scandal at the Bernabeu", suggesting the officials were biased in Barca's favour.
Guardiola's 'most beautiful' night en route to Barca's double
Messi's efforts in the first leg gave Madrid too much to do at Camp Nou as Mourinho – serving a five-match ban for his "scandal" comments – had to give it a miss. A 1-1 draw saw Barca go through to the final, where they beat Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley, while they also held their nerve to win the league title.
"This has been one of the most beautiful nights I have ever lived," Guardiola said after the draw with Los Blancos, bringing a sorry saga to a less contentious end.
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