A poll asking Barcelona and Real Madrid fans to pick their ideal lineups for Saturday’s Clasico showdown saw Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo overshadowed by some of their illustrious team-mates.
The vote was run by Spanish outlet AS, and surprisingly, Messi received less votes to be included than his attacking team-mates Neymar and Luis Suarez, while Ronaldo wasn't even among the top four spots in the Los Blancos section, which were occupied by Keylor Navas, Marcelo, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema.
In what’s another curious result from the Real Madrid section of the vote, neither James Rodriguez nor Isco received sufficient votes to make it into the starting lineup, with the pragmatic presence of Casemiro preferred.
Here are the starting XIs that would be fielded for the contest if the supporters sampled had their way:
It’s suggested by Alfredo Matilla of AS, whose piece summarised the findings, that the reason for Messi being a little further down than Neymar and Suarez could be due to his international commitments—Argentina have two FIFA World Cup qualifiers in this international break—and fans want him “rested because of the tough European fixture [against Atletico Madrid] ahead.”
Matilla also ponders whether simply “Suarez (who received the highest number of votes) and Neymar are bigger fan favourites these days.”
Perhaps the Barcelona supporters were voting with the reverse fixture in mind, when Suarez and Neymar ran Real ragged in a 4-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Madridistas seem to have voted with that night in mind, too. Then-manager Rafael Benitez opted for a cavalier team selection, with no holding midfielder in the XI, and Barcelona were able to find so much space between the lines.
Both Isco and Rodriguez featured in that contest and have received criticism for poor form lately. Although the former thinks the pair are being made scapegoats for bigger issues at the club.
"It's been a very difficult season but I do not think everything that happens to Real Madrid is the fault of James and me," said Isco, per Cadena Cope (h/t Dom Farrell of Goal).
Still, players like Casemiro at the expense of Isco or Rodriguez would have helped stem the relentless attacks in the campaign's earlier Clasico.
As these figures from WhoScored.com illustrate, in Real’s last away game, a 2-1 triumph at Las Palmas, the midfielder is a multifaceted influence:
He’s the kind of player who is vital when it comes to getting a result from the Camp Nou, as is Ronaldo.
Down the years, the Portuguese has tormented the Barcelona defence, with 15 goals in Clasico matches in total. Only Raul and Alfredo di Stefano have scored more for Los Blancos in this fixture for Real Madrid, and if Real are going to get three points from this one, you suspect Ronaldo will have to be at full tilt.
The Portuguese loves to silence the Camp Nou, too, as he did with the winning goal in Real’s last win at the stadium in 2012:
What will be the result in Saturday's game?
That Messi and Ronaldo are supplemented by tremendous quality elsewhere in their sides makes this fixture an unmissable one. While these two have long dominated this contest, a supporting cast of Suarez, Neymar, Benzema and Gareth Bale adds to the glamour of what has become the most anticipated fixture in world football.
Yet despite the influx of quality and the results of this poll, both Messi, who has 21 goals in Clasico matches, and Ronaldo remain the most decisive figures for their respective sides.
They’ve proved on many different occasions they can thrive in this white-hot atmosphere, and while others have done so recently, finding such consistency in such a big contest should be admired.