MIAMI — It is a Clasico, yet it isn't a Clasico.
This is the paradox Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and his Barcelona counterpart Ernesto Valverde face heading into Saturday's meeting. Hard Rock Stadium will be full of fans who have paid a significant amount of money to see their favourite players.
Fans on either side all over the world will be expecting a win over their rival. Yet, once the game is over, what will linger? There won't be a new trophy for a team to display (okay, Barcelona could claim the International Champions Cup, but that probably won't go on display like the Champions League and La Liga trophies on show in Miami).
Fans will get to see their favourite players, at least. Well, that is if their favourite player isn't Cristiano Ronaldo. With the Confederations Cup the biggest tournament taking place this summer, few superstars aside from the Ballon d'Or holder have missed much time. The MSN of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are all present, for now at least as the latter's potential transfer to Paris Saint Germain continues to be the biggest saga of the summer.
Zidane said prior to the game: "We have the best players. We've won and this year we want to do the same, or at least try to. We have everything in front of us. I think the squad is very good and I don't want any changes. We're all here except the 7, Cristiano, who still isn't with us but the rest of us know it's going to be a difficult year because everybody is going to want to beat Real Madrid but that's even better for us.
Barcelona will want to beat Madrid on Saturday, of course. Who would want to lose any match, much less a game against a rival that so many people will be watching. The question is exactly how badly each manager will want to get a result. Both coaches have played close to full strength teams for the first 45 minutes of their previous matches, but losing a star to an injury in this match isn't how either coach wants to start his season.
"It's normal that in the first matches of the year, we change a lot of players more than anything because we still have to regulate their effort. We haven't had many training sessions and we don't want to run the risk of injuries," Valverde said after Barca's 1-0 win over Manchester United. "But it's also true that the game against Real Madrid will be a different game. It's possible some players might see some more minutes, but we're going to wait and see."
We'll likely see each coach put out a strong team but again make a number of changes. Maybe there won't be the same mass substitutions of an entire different XI, but it might get to that point by the hour mark.
"Of course these games are here to improve our physical condition, to get into our rhythm," Barca forward Luis Suarez said on Friday. "There are always a lot of substitutions because as a player you're not ready to play even 60 minutes or 90 minutes. That's normal. Tomorrow's game, obviously it's a Clasico and we want to win but it doesn't take away the fact that we're finding our rhythm. We still haven't talked about this. The coaching staff and fitness coaches will say what each player needs."
But again, there's that thought that this game is El Clasico. It's a game that even the players themselves, despite not wanting to put in a full 90 minutes quite yet or risk injury, still want to win.
"A Clasico is a Clasico. We have this game in the preseason, and then we have to train for the two games in the Spanish Super Cup," Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic said after training on Thursday. "And if we want to win it, we're going to have to continue training as best we can, and it also means we have to play a good game. I really hope we can win it."
Things are further complicated by the looming Supercopa with Barca and Madrid set to meet twice in four days in August to decide the winner of that trophy in Spain. When asked, Andres Iniesta noted it's well within the realm of possibility to see that tournament played abroad, as is happening with a Clasico is for the first time since 1982.
That may be the future of European club football in the United States. For now, though, each team has to deal with the awkwardness of the current situation. It's a game that means everything but means nothing, one with meaning and without. As the regular season approaches, the players may not even have time to worry about assigning weight to Saturday's spectacle. The winner will be pleased on the flight out of Miami, but soon enough they'll be seeing their rival again with even higher stakes.