Never has El Clasico been quite as daunting as now, says Gaizka Mendieta, as Real Madrid and Barcelona prepare to square up in a make-or-break month.
La Liga's leading protagonists could face each other up to four times before May 3 if both progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League, starting with Saturday's league game at the Bernabeu.
Former Barca and Spain midfielder Mendieta says players on either side cannot afford to look past this weekend's game - or contemplate the damage of defeat - otherwise the weight of expectation could cripple their confidence.
"On Sunday when the league games finished, the fans had already started to talk about El Clasico," he told Revista.
"There has never been anything like this; everybody is so excited. That happens when there are two games - with four, even more so.
"The demands mentally and physically - everything to do with El Clasico - are massive. It's huge.
"I feel that somehow you have to try to forget about the rest of the games that are left to be played otherwise you could get quite tired.
"As a player I used to say 'the game has to be played when it comes to the time - you can't play them before otherwise you are already tired'.
"I think that this is the case. You have to focus on the first game; you can't think of what is coming."
Barcelona lead La Liga by eight points at present, but Mendieta believes that Jose Mourinho has the stronger squad on paper going into Saturday's game.
"Madrid are getting their players back - even Kaka," he said. "He scored a penalty and his confidence will be getting better and better.
"Playing-wise the gap between them is smaller than it was. It seems like Madrid is coming up and Barcelona is coming down slightly - but it's a Classico, so everybody is up for the game and will give 100 percent."
Spanish football expert Graham Hunter also believes that Pep Guardiola's side will have its work cut out at the weekend as the demands of the season take their toll.
"A draw on Saturday would be the best result," he said. "The way that they [Barcelona] will try to achieve that draw is pushing high up the pitch, keeping the ball and trying to hurt Real Madrid.
"I think everybody around the Camp Nou admits that there is a little bit of mental and physical tiredness and their best way of dealing with that is scoring early.
"It was mentality that got them through at the weekend against Almeria, and they will need a good dose of that if they are going to deal with the onslaught at the Bernabeu because this is a tired squad right now."
That view was echoed by fellow La Liga guest Guillem Ballague, who added: "The other problem for Barcelona at the moment is that the strikers - apart from Lionel Messi - don't seem to be scoring.
"Without the ball the team looks less aggressive; they just don't recover the ball as early as they used to."