I remember it as if it were just yesterday: tucked away in the rafters of the Santiago Bernabeu amongst a few hundred other Cules, eagerly anticipating the start of the first El Clasico match-up of the season between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The excitement, the adrenaline...the nerves. It was a nail-biting experience even before the match begun and before long my anxiety was soothed by an early goal from the Blaugrana.
Luis Suarez was the provider in his Clasico and Barça debut, but Neymar's goal was a thing of beauty: a curling effort that arrowed into the far corner of Iker Casillas' goal, silencing the Bernabeu faithful. It was going to be one of those nights, wasn't it? A historic victory awaited...a chance to put Real Madrid back in their place after the taunting surrounding La Decima. Perched high up in the top tier of the stadium, we celebrated Neymar's goal as if it had secured the title itself.
Celebrations that ultimately turned out to be premature. Real struck back and finished as the superior side, emphasising their dominance by creating a plethora of chances. Only the profligacy of the Madridista frontline saved Barça from humiliation.
And yet, over the course of the season the opposite has been true; Real Madrid finished the first-half as the team to beat in La Liga, and now it's FC Barcelona who sit atop the table. In their last ten matches, Real Madrid have been at their best in the first-half -- a trend that was evident as recently as last week, as they dispatched Levante off the back of an impressive first-half display, before struggling in the second 45.
Barcelona on the other hand have done the majority of their damage after the interval, especially over their last 10 matches. Luis Enrique's rotation policy is paying dividends. Real Madrid are paying the price for their over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo and on individuals as opposed to a system or philosophy. Will that trend continue this weekend as Barça and Real collide in El Clasico?
We'll just have to wait and see.