Jose Mourinho questions choice of referee for 'Clasico' showdown

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho is unhappy with the choice of referee for tonight's match against Barcelona, a head-to-head between the top two teams in the Spanish league.

Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez has refereed two games between the teams, with Barcelona winning both times, in 1999 and 2005. "The statistics are there - Barcelona is happy with Iturralde Gonzalez and Real Madrid is less happy," Mourinho said on the eve of the highly anticipated 'El Clasico'.

Mourinho can count on the return of striker Gonzalo Higuain, midfielder Sami Khedira and defender Ricardo Carvalho for the game at Camp Nou after they missed Tuesday's 4-0 win over Ajax due to injury.

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The Portuguese coach believes the 90,000-plus fans and millions of worldwide viewers can expect a world-class match if everyone does their job. "If the players only worry about playing football, there's enough quality there to have a game for all of the world (to love], and we have the responsibility to provide the world with a match the world can love," Mourinho said.

"These are two teams that could be the best - if not the best, then very close (to it]."

Madrid have won seven straight matches to top the standings by one point ahead of Barcelona, who have won six in a row. Both teams are on top of their respective Champions League groups and have advanced to the knockout stages. Both also have fully healthy squads to choose from.

Mourinho said he won't alter his team's style and will instead look to identify some of Barcelona's weaknesses and exploit them. "I'm worried about my team, like always. We won't abandon our own game-plan for Barca," Mourinho said. "We need to find their weakest point and take positives from that."

Aside from being a match-up between two of the world's biggest clubs and superstars - Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo - the match will also present the best measurement of how far Madrid have come under Mourinho, who used to work at Barcelona as a translator before becoming an assistant coach.

Madrid haven't beaten their bitter rivals since May 2008, losing a record four in a row, while Barcelona have won eight trophies in two seasons under Pep Guardiola. Mourinho arrived from Champions League winners Inter Milan, who knocked out Barcelona in the semi-finals, to take over a club without a title in more than two years.

"I hope my team has sufficient mental strength to lose and still believe in itself or to win and to keep its feet on the ground," Mourinho said. "I don't want this team's self-esteem to change whether we win or lose the game." Mourinho also goaded his former employers Barcelona.The self-proclaimed "Special One" reminded the Catalan club that Inter Milan - then coached by Mourinho - had denied Barcelona a chance at history last season.

In beating Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, Inter deprived them of a place in the final at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium. This will be Mourinho's first return to Barcelona since that match.

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"When I went to Barcelona with Chelsea or Inter it was fun, but now it will be even more fun," Mourinho said.

"Barcelona has won everything but it never won the Champions League in the Bernabeu and maybe in another 30 or 40 years they'll get another chance to do it."

Mourinho's arrival at Madrid has certainly increased the antagonism between the two already bitter rivals. And while Mourinho accused Barcelona of being "obsessed" with winning the Champions League at the Bernabeu, Barcelona has also become an obsession for Mourinho.

The Portuguese coach appears to enjoy provoking the club where he got his start as a translator for Bobby Robson before working as an assistant to Louis Van Gaal. His visits before were in the Champions League with Chelsea and Inter, but this time it's a 13th-round league match with Madrid, who lead Barcelona by a single point in La Liga.

"This time it's different. This is just one more match amid 38 in the league, it won't be decisive," said Mourinho, one of only three coaches to win Champions League titles with two different clubs.

Spanish newspapers have lapped up Mourinho's addition to the always dramatic national derby, painting it as a Mourinho v Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola match-up.

Many TV stations have dug up footage of Mourinho celebrating at Barcelona's city hall in 1997 when he said: "Barcelona in my heart today, tomorrow and forever."