UEFA Champions League: 10 Reasons Barcelona vs. Real Madrid Will Be the Final
It is arguably the football world's greatest rivalry: El Clasico. Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.
The two giants hate each other for all sorts of reasons, but for neutrals who have not pledged their allegiance to either team, watching Spain's two best teams play for the pride of their fanbases is superb theater.
Barcelona and Madrid are also two of the best teams on the planet in the UEFA Champions League arena. The Catalans have won two of the competition's past three iterations, and Los Blancos have won the world's most prestigious club competition a record nine times.
With both teams in sublime form and seemingly ready to obliterate any opposition who dares to challenge them, it looks almost certain that they will meet in the final of this year's Champions League.
At least on Real Madrid's end, the opposition to a run to the Champions League final is not nearly as difficult as it could be.
They were the luckiest team of the draw for the last eight; a dominating Madrid side roundly thrashed minnows APOEL in Cyprus to a score of 3-0.
If and when Los Blancos advance, they face either a heavily slumping Marseille or Bayern Munich in the semifinals. Both are very beatable.
Mourinho and Guardiola
Both Madrid and Barcelona have managers who are almost unequaled in their tactical prowess and Champions League experience.
Jose Mourinho is famous for his elaborate and unpredictable tactical schemes, which he has used many times to thwart opponents. Managing Chelsea, Porto, Inter and now Madrid, few active managers have the wealth of expertise at Europe's highest level that the Portuguese has.
And we already know about Pep Guardiola. The man who has won almost everything there is to win in the game may well leave for new pastures at the end of this season (per the Telegraph's Jason Burt), but few argue that there are many better managers in the game than the Catalan legend.
Behind much of Barcelona's success in recent years, there has been this little hell-raiser.
Lionel Messi is, quite simply, the best footballer on the planet and a player who can single-handedly turn a competitive fixture into a rout.
Whenever Pep Guardiola pencils Messi into his starting XI, Barcelona will have a very good chance of winning, regardless of who else comprises the lineup.
With the little Argentine in the form of his life and no team able to cope with him, Barca can overcome anyone who crosses their path.
Barcelona may have the best player in the world, but Madrid might just have the second best in Cristiano Ronaldo. And the Portuguese winger is just as important to Los Merengues as Messi is to Barcelona.
When Ronaldo doesn't play, Madrid don't have the same attacking verve or tempo. There's just not the same threat of an unstoppable force that they may unleash at any moment to terrorize the opposition.
Ronaldo brings jet-heeled pace, lightning-like quickness and raw power in both his shot and physical frame. He has an utterly unique style that no player in the world can emulate, including that little Argentine rival of his.
As with Messi and Barcelona, Ronaldo can be the difference between elimination and progression if he needs to be.
This one is a bit obvious, but should be mentioned nonetheless. Why will Barcelona make up one half of the Clasico final?
Because their midfield is the best midfield since the term was invented.
Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta take up versatile attacking positions, dropping back or playing just behind the striker. Even they, two of the best at their craft in all the world, play second fiddle to Xavi, the mastermind and conductor of Barcelona's fabled engine room.
When they do have the ball, they keep it endlessly and constantly spray hundreds of passes at the defence in search of the one microscopic opening that the likes of Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez need to score. When they don't have it, they relentlessly press to get it back.
Besting the quartet of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Sergio Busquets is one of the hardest things to do in football.
While not at the same legendary status as the midfield maestros of Barcelona, the strikers, wingers and attacking midfielders of Real Madrid can certainly make a compelling case that they are the best in the world at their craft.
While the aforementioned Ronaldo shines brightest, Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria have been having stellar seasons, knocking in goal after goal and delivering perfect wing play.
Behind the front three is the insanely creative and talented Mesut Ozil, who continues to show this year that he deserves to be mentioned in the Xavi-Iniesta class of midfielders.
If he needs a rest or some support, Jose Mourinho can turn to Kaka, who is having a renaissance this year in a shirt that had only brought him struggles in the past.
When this Madrid attack is in full flow, they are nearly as tough to stop as Barcelona's midfield.
While many of the two clubs' competitors have been slumping in recent weeks, Barcelona and Real Madrid are surging, both domestically and in Europe.
Chelsea, for example, have fallen out of the top four in England after a series of lackluster displays against teams of all levels. Barcelona would feel fairly secure that they could get two results against them.
If Real Madrid get Marseille in the semifinals, they should not be too worried. OM currently sit ninth in the Ligue 1 table after an abysmal run of form that has seen the French giants get only one draw during this entire month.
Thus, the odds are stacked further in the favors of Barcelona and Madrid.
Few teams are as practiced in the art of maneuvering through the pressure cooker of the Champions League's latter stages as Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Los Blancos, of course, are regular entrants into the draw for the quarterfinals and often advance to the semifinals as well. For a lift or an inspirational moment, goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas never disappoints.
Barca, meanwhile, are perennial participants in the final. For two of the past three seasons, the famous big-eared trophy has traveled back to Catalonia after the overwhelming pressure put on by the Blaugrana at both ends proved too much for every team in the competition.
Players like Xavi and Carles Puyol have been down this road many, many times before, and are not fazed any longer by situations that some would crumble in the face of.
When the going gets really tough, it is extremely helpful to have experienced heads to turn to. Both teams have them in abundance.
They'll Want to Play Each Other
The players for both Barcelona and Madrid are true competitors. Naturally, they relish facing off against their bitter rivals and proving to their fans and the world that Spanish supremacy lies in either the Camp Nou or the Santiago Bernabeu.
As such, there will be extra impetus for both sides to make it to the final, with full knowledge that there could be a "Super-Clasico" in store if both teams prove their quality and make it all the way to Munich.
Even if you are still hungover from last year's deluge of Clasicos, it is impossible to resist the sheer spectacle of the two best sides in the world meeting under the pretext of such an intense and storied rivalry in a match of such importance as a Champions League final. Speaking of quality...
They're the Two Best Teams in the World
Simple as that. There is no other club side out there that can match the sheer quality and depth that both Barcelona and Real Madrid possess. It is an embarrassment of riches for both sides. When they decide to play fair, they are the best that football has to offer.
When Barca get into their intricate passing rhythm, they are almost unstoppable. Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas are arguably the three best midfielders in the world, and they all play together with an almost eerie symbiotic relationship.
Real Madrid have a ridiculously potent and well-rounded attack, with a fantastic midfield almost at the level of their rivals'. When Xabi Alonso is allowed to dictate play from his deep-lying role, Madrid can drop four goals on a team and make it look almost effortless.
Oh, and then there's Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Quite simply, Barcelona and Real Madrid will meet in a superb Champions League final because they are each better than every other team they will play this year. Except, possibly, each other.