Why Saturday's Version of "El Clasico" Promises to be the Best
"El Clasico" is one of those matches which will almost never disappoint. Some derbies have a tendency to be a damp squib—for instance Arsenal v, Chelsea is often a rather dull affair—yet El Clasico never ceases to disappoint.
The reasons for this lie in Spanish history and the rule of General Franco. Franco, seeking to repress nationalism like those of the Catalans who made up Barcelona's fan-base, banned native languages, and clamped down on nationalist activities through repressive policing.
All the while, Franco's regime supported Real Madrid, using them as a propaganda vehicle, while being their biggest fans. For Barcelona fans, matches against their capital counterparts, were matches against Franco himself.
Add to this mixture suspicions of constant referee-bias towards Madrid, and the infamous non-transfer of Di Stefano to Barcelona—moving instead to Real where he became a hero—and you have some of the ingredients that make El Clasico so special.
Another factor behind El Classico's fame is that it has featured some of the greatest players of the past. Kubala, Di Stefano, Cruyff, Maradona, Figo, Zidane, and er...Winston Bogarde—great names one and all.
In light of recent events, this weekend's version of the derby is a must watch for any football fan.
Real Madrid, reigning champions yet currently struggling in the league, against Barcelona, underachievers turned good, who are defeating one and all this season.
If recent form is anything to go by then FC Barcelona should be easy winners, this is a team which has scored 44 goals, and conceded nine, and beaten title rivals Sevilla 3-0 and Valencia 4-0. Whereas Real Madrid have stuttered to 5th place in the league, and have just fired their manager.
Here's another twist, it is both manager's Clasico debut. Pep Guardiola, a young manager making waves, a Catalan hero and Barcelona legend, against Juande Ramos, a Spurs failure, seeking to rebuild his shattered reputation.
Both managers have much to lose, Guardiola's team are performing well, but his decision to rest players on Tuesday as Barca lost to Shakhtar could backfire, while losing to Real normally goes down like a lead balloon in the Catalan region.
Meanwhile for Ramos, a loss in El Clasico would be an ignominious start, with Real well off the pace in the league, a loss would leave them 12 points adrift.
Yet for all the glitz and glamour surrounding this match, it is the players and teams which will decide the match.
Barcelona arguably have the three best players in Xavi, Thierry Henry, and Lionel Messi. These players are three of the best in the world, and in a team unit, functioning brilliantly—as their league record testifies. They should have the edge.
For Real, this match poses an identity crisis, this is a club which in the past boasted the better individuals, yet now will aim for a result through stunting creativity, and graft rather than flair.
Here is where Ramos' influence perhaps should not be underestimated, Real have lost matches recently, but Schuster was a busted flush in Madrid.
Under Ramos, a manager whom the players will respect—his record in Spain is far worthier than Anglophile commentators credit him—the new manager should provide the belief that a victory is possible, as opposed to Schuster's defeatist ramblings.
As it is, regardless of the time, or the context, El Clasico is a phenomenal contest, and once more come Saturday night the eyes of the whole world will be watching.
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