El Clasico, the matchup between Barcelona and Real Madrid, is arguably the biggest sports rivalry in the history of soccer. Both sides have dominated La Liga for a number of years, and have had great success in the domestic and European cups.
The rivalry even goes beyond football itself: Real Madrid represents the monarchy and also the mainstream hierarchy of Spain, and Barcelona represents the independent, anti-authoritarian spirit of the Catalonia region.
The next three weeks have significant implications for both clubs. One match might decide the league title, one will settle the domestic cup title, and the two-legged semi-finals match in the UEFA Champions League will settle who will face the winner of the Manchester United-Schalke 04 match in the Champions League final.
In their last meeting last November, Barcelona steamrolled Real Madrid 5-0 at the Camp Nou, only adding to Barcelona's recent dominance of Real Madrid. Madrid has not beaten Barcelona in La Liga competition since May 7, 2008 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The overall record between the two teams in league competition includes 67 Real Madrid wins, 63 Barcelona wins, and 30 draws. Both teams have amassed 251 goals against each other.
In the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) competition, Barcelona has the edge, with 14 wins against Real Madrid's nine, with five draws. Barcelona also leads the goal tally, with 59 to Real Madrid's 55.
Who will come out on top in all four competitions?
In the UEFA Champions league, however, Real Madrid comes out on top, with three wins to Barcelona's one, with two draws in six matches. Real Madrid has scored 12 goals to Barcelona's seven.
Not only are the respective teams' chances at trophies at stake, but the rivalry between La Liga superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will be in the spotlight, and will frequently be referred to. The four matches between the two teams will possibly decide who is better, and perhaps put the whole debate to rest, especially because the four matches take place in such a short time.
Many unofficial (and some official) Internet polls show Messi outpacing his rival by a fair amount. The sports media has also backed Messi to beat his rival. On paper, however, Ronaldo seems to be the more complete athlete, and with his height, gains an advantage of headers over his Barcelona counterpart.
There is a significant statistic that gives Messi the edge, however: Ronaldo has never scored against the Blaugrana, while Messi has sent the ball past Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas seven times in his career. To be fair, however, Messi has never scored against a Jose Mourinho-led team, but has had eight attempts.
According to Goal.com, Ronaldo said, "They (Barcelona) are a great team but they are not from another planet; they are human just like us." Messi has told Soccer America the secret to his success: by just playing the game. "I do everything through instinct, I play like a child...I think about myself on a small field, or in the street, I see myself with the ball in the same way as I am now. I have not changed at all. You must remember soccer is a game to have fun and you play for that. I don't plan or anticipate my play."
If Messi's strategy is no strategy at all, as he claimed, then how can Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates contain the Argentinian international? Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has maintained a code of silence to the media, with assistant coach Aitor Karanka fielding questions from the press.
The results of the teams will clearly affect the rivalry between the two players, but as history has shown, Messi still holds the edge over Ronaldo, and probably will unless they find an answer to Messi's non-strategy on playing football.