Although Real Madrid fans will reserve the majority of their ire for Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez when arch enemies roll into town tonight, another visitor is sure to receive more than his fair share of abuse: Barca boss Luis Enrique.
The Nou Camp chief is regarded with scorn by Madridistas after committing the heresy of leaving their club to join Barca on a free transfer in 1996.
He had spent five moderately successful seasons at the Bernabeu after starting his career with Sporting Gijon, never fully winning over Los Blancos fans despite playing with his trademark wholehearted endeavour.
The chief problem was that he was shifted from position to position, suffering from the tag of ‘utility player’ and being asked to fill in everywhere from full-back to striker, never having the chance to nail down a specific role in the team.
He left Madrid having scored 15 goals in 157 league appearances, occasionally looking good enough to excel in such lofty surroundings but at other times not quite cutting the mustard, and his departure would have caused little fuss if he had elected to join any other club than Barcelona.
The antipathy was accentuated when Enrique repeatedly went out of his way to emphasise how much happier and more appreciated he felt at the Nou Camp than he had ever done in the capital, especially when he exploded into an emotional celebration after scoring against his former club.
Those actions, which Enrique has never regretted, turned him into a hate figure for Madrid fans, something that Enrique seems to relish, further stoking the fires earlier this week when he observed: “You are never more proud to be a Barca player than when you are at the Bernabeu.”
Today’s game is not, of course, Enrique’s first return to the Bernabeu as a manager – he was in charge of Celta Vigo last season, suffering a 3-0 loss as Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a late brace in the first game after the Christmas break.
However, a few months later Enrique further endeared himself to Barca fans – and alienated himself from Madrid followers – by leading his Celta team to a 2-0 home success over Los Blancos in the penultimate game of the season, a result which made it mathematically impossible for Carlo Ancelotti’s men to claim the title.
Today’s Clasico, however, is another level and by far the biggest occasion of Enrique’s coaching career to date.
Although he redeemed himself with a strong season at Celta, the suspicion that Enrique might struggle to manage a really big club still lingers.
Today, he can put that accusation to rest – and he wouldn’t choose anywhere else to do it.