Ranking Modern Football's 6 Greatest Club Rivalries
Barcelona triumphed 2-1 over Real Madrid in the clash that has come to be known as El Clasico.
This audience were lured in by two sets of supremely talented players, but also by the history and enduring rivalry shared by these sides.
Here I rank the leading six club rivalries in world football.
6. AC Milan V Inter Milan
This has been Italian football’s fiercest rivalry since the clubs were formed over a century ago.
AC Milan were founded by an Englishman in 1899 and originally called the Milan Cricket and Football Club, but soon came to be dominated by Italians.
Nine years later Inter were formed in response by a group of Italian and Swiss men who wanted a club with more of a foreign influence, and called themselves Internazionale (International).
Since 1908 the two Milan clubs have fought out a long and bitter rivalry for supremacy in the city.
They share 18 Italian titles, both a long way behind Juventus’ 29 titles, but AC Milan have a significant advantage in the European Cup winning seven to Inter’s three.
When the pair clash in the Derby della Madonnina it is again close, but Milan have a narrow lead of 110 wins to Inter’s 105 wins from 294 games.
5. Penarol V Nacional
This is the game that divides an entire nation.
Uruguay’s population consists of only 3.3 million people and so when these two teams meet in The Uruguayan Clasico almost everyone has a vested interest.
Since 1900 Uruguay’s two leading teams have contested one of world football’s most passionate and oldest derbies.
Over 456 games Penarol have triumphed 159 times, while Nacional have 146 wins.
These games normally have a significant influence on the destination of a title as between them Penarol (47) and Nacional (44) have won 91 of the 109 Uruguayan national titles.
On the international stage Penarol and Nacional both proudly sit on top of the list of the most Intercontiental Cup wins with three each along with AC Milan, Real Madrid and Boca Juniors.
4. Manchester United V Liverpool
Manchester United might share a reinvigorated rivalry with Manchester City now, but their main rivals will always be Liverpool.
Though Liverpool have not been champions for 23 years they remain along with United, English football’s two most successful teams. United have 20 titles, Liverpool have 18.
Their rivalry has always been about more than football. It’s embedded in the social and economic histories of the cities.
It started as long ago as the nineteenth century when Manchester built their own ship canal and port for ocean liners after Liverpool’s own port had levied excessive taxes on Mancunian cotton.
But it wasn’t until the '60s that the city’s football clubs became the figureheads of this civic battle.
For four seasons, United and Liverpool shared the League Championship between them, Liverpool winning it in 1964 and 1966, and United in 1965 and 1967.
Since then Liverpool dominated the '70s and '80s before United took over in the '90s and the first decade of this century.
3. Celtic V Rangers
I have been to many of football's leading rivalries, but nothing prepares you for an Old Firm derby.
The feeling of tension and mutual hatred crackles in the air around the stadium when Rangers and Celtic meet. It makes Liverpool v Manchester United look like a trip to Disneyland.
Since the clubs first faced each other in the nineteenth century when Rangers rose out of Glasgow’s Protestant community and Celtic were founded by a Catholic Monk, the Old Firm has been a clash of cultures and religions.
The Guardian once called the derby ninety minutes of sporting rivalry barbed by 500 years of blood-drenched history.
Between them the Glasgow clubs have won 98 of the 118 Scottish titles since 1890.
2. Boca Juniors V River Plate
Since 1913, Argentina’s two most popular clubs have contested one of the fiercest and most passionate rivalries in the world, known as The Superclásico.
Some see it as a clash of the classes in Buenos Aires with Boca hailing from the dockland area and representing the working class and River now coming from the more salubrious Nunez area, which earned them their “Los Millionarios” (“The Millionaires”) nickname.
The fans help to make this one of the most compelling derbies in the world, with Boca at their Bombonera stadium and River at El Mounmental both producing a wall of noise and colour.
River have the slight edge on Boca in terms of titles won, 35 to 30, but on the international stage Boca reign supreme and have won three Intercontinental Cups, the joint most along with Penarol, Nacional, AC Milan and Real Madrid, and six Copa Libertadores titles. In contrast River have won the Intercontinental Cup once and the Copa Libertadores title twice.
1. Barcelona V Real Madrid
This rivalry has an obvious and glamourous appeal, Spain’s two biggest sides doing battle at least twice a season in El Clasico.
Of course this game is more than just about football and also provides a potent mix of history, regionalism, culture and politics.
Barcelona have long been proud to be a defiant symbol of Catalan nationalism, especially during the Franco era, while Real Madrid are seen as the club of the Spanish establishment with their royal links.
On the pitch Real Madrid have won 32 Spanish titles, while Barcelona have won 22. No other team has reached double figures.
As a spectacle this rivalry has always been able to boast some of the world’s best players, including Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Johan Cruyff and Ronaldinho.
Today El Clasico is the most eagerly awaited fixture in the football calendar as it also serves as a personal contest between the world’s two best players, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.