EL CLASICO is a fixture that needs little build-up.
It is quite simply the biggest match in club football as Real Madrid take on Barcelona. They are currently the two biggest clubs in the world. Travel anywhere around the world and you will find children wearing kits from one team or the other. But it’s about so much more than football. There is history, culture, politics and finance all wrapped into a rivalry that is played out on a grass pitch.
This afternoon at the unusual time of 3.15pm in front of 98,000 fans, the teams will meet at the Camp Nou for the 265thplaying of this incredible fixture. Barcelona currently stand ahead with 109 wins to Real Madrid’s 97, but all that is basically irrelevant. The bragging rights only matter to the winner on the day. And in the case of this afternoon, it has to be Barcelona if they are to stop Real from taking a big leap towards a first league title since 2012.
Zinedine Zidane may come across as an unlikely manager but he has applied the golden touch to his spell so far at the Bernabeu that he had throughout his playing career. Madrid are currently on an unbeaten run of 32 games in all competitions stretching back to April when they lost at Wolfsburg in the Champions League. That is only two behind the club’s all-time record of 34. They reversed that result against the Germans, won the Champions League in May and have now opened up a six-point gap over Barca at the top of La Liga.
That is why the game is so important for the home team. A nine-point deficit would not be insurmountable, but it would require Real to have a major wobble to let Barcelona back in the race. Their start to the season has been characterised by sloppy results that no one would have predicted. There was a home defeat to newly promoted Alaves, a bad loss away to Celta Vigo and a surprise goalless draw with Malaga in Catalonia. Key players like Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba have been injured at times and without them, the team just hasn’t looked right – noticeably when they lost 3-1 at Manchester City in the Champions League.
Whenever these two sides meet, focus inevitably centres on Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. And why not? They are the two greatest footballers on the planet, the two leading scorers of all-time for these sporting institutions and will go down as two of the best ever. Not only do they battle for the three trophies on offer every season – La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey – but also the individual glory of the Ballon d’Or as World Player of the Year and ‘Pichichi’ as the leading goalscorer in La Liga. Ronaldo currently leads that battle with ten to Messi’s nine, thanks to his brilliant hat-trick in the 3-0 victory at Atletico Madrid a fortnight ago and two more in a home win over Sporting Gijon last Saturday.
With so much going for it, the only shame is that fans in Britain can’t get to watch it. The match has always taken place on either Saturday or Sunday night but it has been put in this new 3.15pm slot, which La Liga uses to target new markets in Asia. In Britain, no football can be televised live on a Saturday afternoon between 2.45pm and 5.15pm so as to deter people from going to matches in person. So, just think this weekend, you could watch Motherwell v Celtic, Curzon Ashton v Wimbledon and Leeds v Aston Villa, but not the biggest game in club football. Given the televised nature of the modern game, it seems like madness.
La Liga titles – 56 – Real Madrid 32; Barcelona 24
Champions Leagues – 16 – Real Madrid 11; Barcelona 5
Estimated viewing figures around the world – 500 million
Total goals scored by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for their current clubs – 832 (Messi 456; Ronaldo 376)
Total number of hat-tricks scored by Messi and Ronaldo for their current clubs – 76 (Messi 37; Ronaldo 39)