El Clasico: 10 Reasons Real Madrid vs. Barcelona Is Club Football's Biggest Game
Saturday sees the first league meeting of the season between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
El Clasico has become a biennial football event which no longer grabs the attention of all of Spain; the match between the country's two biggest rivals is now watched the world over.
While fans whose allegiances lie with either Liverpool or Manchester United may disagree, here are 10 reasons why this fixture could be considered the biggest club game in world football.
They Are the World's Two Best Teams
Right now, it is hard to argue that Barca and Real are not the two best teams not only in the Iberian peninsula, but in the world.
While it is true that the rest of La Liga pales in comparison, these two sides also lay waste to all before them in Europe too.
Their semifinal of the Champions League last season was viewed by many as a de facto final played over two legs. Barca won a tight and tempestuous affair, and went on to outclass Manchester United in the final for the second time in three years.
Lione Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
Fittingly for the two best teams in the world today, they each possess one of the two best players among their ranks.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both on the three-man shortlist for this season's Ballon d'Or; the other is Messi's teammate Xavi Hernandez.
Messi is looking to win the award for a third straight year while Ronaldo—the world's most expensive player—hopes to reclaim the title he lost to Messi in 2009.
World Cup Winners
A key factor in backing the claim that these two sides are the best in the world is the sheer number of Spain internationals who represent either team.
Between them, Real and Barca provided just five players that ended 44 years of Spanish hurt by winning the 2008 European Championship, but just two years later that figure has swelled to 13 of the squad that confirmed La Furia Roja's status as the greatest team in international football by winning the World Cup two years later.
When they lined up against each other for the season-opening Super Copa de Espana in August, there were 11 world champions on the pitch.
Shared League Titles
Manchester United famously eclipsed their rivals Liverpool in May when they beat their record haul of 18 league titles.
However, their joint total of 37 is nothing compared to Real and Barca, who share 52 between them.
Shared European Cups
Again, the two red rivals are eclipsed by the two old Spanish foes.
Between them, United and Liverpool have won the European Cup eight times (Liverpool's haul of five is a British record).
Compare that to Real and Barca, who have a total of 13.
Real's haul of nine European Cup triumphs—including each of the first five—is easily the record for the competition.
Barca, meanwhile, have won four in all, including three of the last six.
The enmity between these two clubs runs much deeper than mere football.
While the rivalry that is held between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester stems from the industrial revolution, Barcelona and Madrid's differences are borne out of the Spanish Civil War.
When these two meet at the Camp Nou the home team are representing not just the city but their entire region against the King's team. There are signs in the ground declaring such things as "Catalonia is not Spain."
A factor which adds an extra dimension to these two colossal fixtures is the arenas in which they are set.
Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabeu crams a little more than 80,000 spectators into its steep-sided stands, while the Camp Nou in Barcelona lets in nigh on 100,000 supporters in a ground level and file down into a veritable cauldron of a ground.
The atmosphere at either ground may be a little sedate on your average home game, what with both being a popular destination for tourists and casual fans, but come the Clasico there is barely a more vociferous support anywhere in the world.
As with the FIFA Ballon d'Or, both Barca and Real have their managers on the three-man shortlist for the FIFA Coach of the Year award.
Jose Mourinho is the most successful coach of the last decade, winning league titles in three different countries and the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan.
Pep Guardiola has only in his fourth season as a coach, but he has already won La Liga three times and the Champions League twice.
There is no love lost between them, with their beef stretching back to Mourinho's Inter beating Guardiola's Barca in their Champions League semifinal in 2010 and accelerating once the Portuguese joined Barca's bitter rivals.
Incredibly, Real and Barca have already met six times in this calendar year.
In a hectic 17-day period in the spring, they clashed in the league (1-1 at the Bernabeu, Raul Albiol sent off), the Copa del Rey final (Real 1-0 Barca, Angel di Maria sent off), and in a two-legged Champions League semifinal (Barca won 3-1 on aggregate, with Pepe getting red-carded in the first leg at the Bernabeu).
Then in August, they met in a thrilling Super Copa de Espana tie which Barca won 5-4 on aggregate. Marcelo was sent off in the closing moments, and the final whistle saw an almighty stramash in which Mourinho was caught poking Barca coach Tito Vilanova in the eye.
Across all of those games, a war of words has been waged between Mourinho and Guardiola that is likely to be stoked up again in preparation for this game. Expect fireworks both on and off the pitch.
No disrespect to the North-West of England, but neither Manchester nor Merseyside can boast what you would call a Mediterranean climate.
El Clasico is something far more exotic, with the matches being held in two of Europe's best cities.
Even though Madrid will be colder than many places in southern Europe this weekend, there will still be a frisson of Latin lustre when they kick off against Barca at 10 p.m. local time on Saturday.
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