Escapology king Sergio Ramos is Real Madrid's main attraction in Clasico circus
The Clasico circus is rolling into town and while the usual intense scrutiny will pile on Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi it is Real Madrid's king of escapology Sergio Ramos who can prove decisive in the battle of LaLiga's behemoths.
Few matches in world football stir up passions like El Clasico and no debate divides opinion more than that of who is the greater individual talent between Madrid's ultimate Galactico Ronaldo and Barcelona's king Messi.
Ronaldo's uncanny talismanic traits have been on show in the past week with the Portugal captain scoring five of Madrid's goals in a 6-3 aggregate victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.
But on the biggest stages it has been Madrid's captain fantastic Ramos and not Ronaldo who has been so crucial to Los Blancos' successes.
Cast your minds back to May 2014 when Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid were 1-0 down to city rivals Atletico in the 93rd minute until Ramos powered a header past the right hand of a despairing Thibaut Courtois.
It proved the catalyst for a 4-1 extra-time win and the end to a desperate wait for Madrid's La Decima obsession.
Two years later and it was again Ramos that proved Atleti's scourge. A goal from a missed offside, an escaped red card, and a penalty in a shootout victory for which Ronaldo's winning spot-kick - after another largely anonymous outing - stole the headlines in an 11th Champions League success.
But never has Ramos' seemingly innate ability to rise to the occasion been so abundant than this season.
It was his 93rd-minute equaliser against boyhood club Sevilla that set up Madrid's 3-2 UEFA Super Cup win in Trondheim.
More crucial, perhaps, was the intervention in December's reverse Clasico. Barca were mere seconds away from cutting Madrid's then six-point gap at the top in half before Ramos emphatically headed home a Luka Modric free-kick.
Those are the iconic moments that many players dine out on throughout their careers, but for Ramos they were the latest in a growing catalogue of great-escape moments.
Indeed just seven days later, at the end of a week that saw a two-goal lead thrown away to draw 2-2 against Borussia Dortmund and relinquish top spot in their Champions League group, Ramos came to the rescue in a thriller against Deportivo La Coruna.
Trailing 2-1 with six minutes to go, Mariano started the revival before Ramos again proved the darling of the Bernabeu with a last-gasp winner from Toni Kroos' corner.
The 31-year-old was at it again just last month, completing the turnaround in a terse 2-1 win over Real Betis after Ronaldo had restored parity.
Those contributions cannot be overstated in the context of a domestic season where Madrid have led from the start, but oddly lacked conviction throughout.
The free-flowing, attacking football demanded by an unforgiving Bernabeu crowd has been replaced by a more rigid, formulaic and structured system under Zinedine Zidane. If Barca had someone mirroring Ramos' late-goal heroics to paper over the cracks of their own inconsistencies, Madrid may not have the lead in the title race at all.
The goals have been just one element of a campaign where Ramos has been so understatedly influential, though.
There have been fewer of the inexplicable lapses in concentration, save for a comical midweek own goal that could have proved costly against Bayern, and no red cards in a Madrid career that has yielded a record 21.
And in a match so often played on a perilous tightrope, Ramos is a man that can swing the balance in Madrid's favour.