In a series of epic battles known as El Clasico, a colossal encounter between the two Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, another enthralling battle between the two awaits football fans across the globe this Saturday when the Catalans visit old foes in Madrid. More often than not, the second El Clasico of a season determines Los Campeones de La Liga, and this one is no different. Both the clubs have been in amazing form this season and are neck and neck in terms of points in La Liga, Barca proving to be better in the Champions League. Madrid boast of a squad full of superstars (Los Galacticos II), while Barcelona too have a squad that speaks volumes about the talent that the club has.
Its a match that the whole country of Spain considers The Grand Derby, a derby where the two opposing teams are not from the same city or region, a derby which has produced ‘the Match of the Millennium’, a derby in which history books say, “Pigs’ heads were thrown at a club’s traitor“, a derby where the hubris of supporters is unmatched in any other part of Spain. Its a fixture where, more than the three points that a club earns, the honor and pride of a community are at stake. While the Spanish government debates a new constitution to hand increasing independence to the region of Catalonia from where F.C. Barcelona hails, values of freedom and honor continue to seep into the fixture, presenting a powerful influence on each new batch of gladiators.
“I knew that this was Catalonia against the rest of Spain and I was one more soldier in the Catalan army.”
-Gary Lineker(FC Barcelona)
So popular and powerful have the sides become that many of the world’s greatest players have experienced the thrill of a clasico in the grand theatres of the Bernabeu and Camp Nou. For Madrid, Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Hugo Sanchez, Zinedine Zidane, have stepped on the hallowed turf to be part of El Clasico, while for Barca, Kubala, Luis Suarez, Johan Cruyff, Hristo Stoitchkov, Rivaldo and Ronaldiho have donned the blue and gold with pride and produced starring roles.
Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo is one player in the history of El Clasico who went through the wrath of the Catalans to an extent as no other player ever had. His transfer from Barcelona to Real Madrid raised a huge uproar as he had already gained an iconic status for Barcelona and his transfer to the club’s old foe Madrid made him a Judas for the Catalans. When he came back to Camp Nou as a Madridista he was welcomed with trash, which included a pig’s head, being thrown at him. Similarly the transfer of Luis Enrique from Real Madrid to Barcelona made the Madridistas upset. However, the fierce rivalry between the two clubs has not prevented players from both teams to take the Puente Aereo between the two clubs.
From the History Books
To have a handle on the importance of the clash, one would have to dive deep into Spanish history, way back in the mid-1930s during the Spanish Civil War when General Francisco Franco was impeding the nation by his dictatorship. The first match between Barcelona and Real Madrid took place in 1929 however the rivalry had begun much before and it was already observed as the incarnation of the tensions felt between the two of the most prominent and culturally contrasting regions of Spain. Barcelona were the representatives of Catalonia, the free-thinking region in the north east of Spain striving hard to gain autonomy and the distinction of a country; Castilian side Real were the face of the Spanish State’s self-governing tyrannical centralism.
General Francisco Franco during his reign suppressed all regional identities and the state of Blaugrana. FC Barcelona’s name was changed to CF Barcelona . So FC Barcelona became more than a club (més que un club) and a representative of the Catalonian beliefs. On the contrary, for most of the Catalans and many other Spaniards, Real Madrid was representing the sovereign oppressive centralism. However the fact of the matter is that during the Spanish Civil War, presidents of both clubs like Josep Sunyol and Rafael Sánchez Guerra, suffered at the hands of Los Nacionales (the winning rightist side).
During the 1950s the rivalry intensified significantly when both the clubs wanted to sign Alfredo Di Stefano, who finally played for Real Madrid, because of the influence of General Franco, who transfered him to Real Madrid by “royal decree”. He had already played three games in Barcelona colors, and the Catalans still believe they were robbed by Madrid. Di Stefano went on to play a major role in Real Madrid’s success in the coming years and ended up becoming the greatest player of the Club. Things have only gotten bitter ever since.
Blast from the Past
Everyone at Madrid would want to erase the memories of the same clash that took place last year. Real Madrid were thrashed at the Bernabeu in a match that all Barcelona fans will always remember. The scoreline read 2-6 and Barca went on to have a historic season where they won all that was put in front of them. An inspired Barca, led by the anchor Xavi along with deadly players like Iniesta, Messi and Henry, outperformed Real Madrid in every department of the game.
The last encounter at Camp Nou however saw a reformed and resilient Madrid after last year’s disaster and although they lost 1-0 to Ibrahimovic’s goal, it was certainly a tough show by the visitors.
Game this Week
With both the teams level at the top of the table in La Liga, Barca cannot take a risk of underestimating Madrid and although Manuel Pellegrini has already fired up a controversy by making one of the most bold statements by saying, “El Clasico is just another match that has to be played.”, they too can’t relax one bit going into the game. Pep Guardiola on the other hand, rightfully respecting the stature of the game, said, “The match is not a final, but we need to play it as if it is.” He also went on to admit, “That’s not repeatable. These things only happen once in a lifetime, never more.”, when asked about whether a thrashing like last year was on the cards.
With the best that there is in the world of football today locking horns, lets check out a few key battles that are expected to take place on the field.
Alvaro Arbeloa v Lionel MessiManuel Pellegrini is planning to switch Arbeloa to an unfamiliar left-back role in a bid to dilute Messi’s influence though it’ll be interesting to see if the wily Guardiola decides to play Messi down the centre.
Cristiano Ronaldo v Carles PuyolThe attacking instincts of Ronaldo will make him face the Spanish Captain Carles Puyol a lot during the game who still is one of the few defenders in spain who can match Ronaldo’s pace.
Xabi Alonso v Xavi HernandezIt’ll be interesting to see which one of these two is able to keep the possession of the ball more as both the players have a similar role of a playmaker in their sides.
Real Madrid: Kaka is most likely to miss the game along with Karim Benzema and Pepe due to injuries.
Barcelona: Eric Ebidal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are out due to injuries, however Iniesta should be fit for the tie.
TheHardTackle Match Prediction
Real Madrid 3- 2 Barcelona