The international break is over, the attention of the footballing world is slowly turning towards one of the greatest games in the world.
Real Madrid and Barcelona lock horns at Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, with only three points separating the two sides at the top of La Liga standings.
The Catalans are leading the pack after 11 rounds with 27 points on their tally and are entering the first El Clasico of the new 2015/2016 season on the back of a four-game winning streak.
Los Blancos were dealt their first blow of the season in the last round before the break, having succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at Sevilla. Rafa Benitez’s men are keen on getting back to winning ways and will be looking to record an important home win, which would see them take over the leading position in the league.
With terrorist attacks taking centre stage and casting a dark shadow of the European football, the game at Santiago Bernabeu is ought to be a message of will, courage and determination.
As we prepare for the biggest game of the season so far, here are the five things you should know about El Classico.
Arguably the biggest rivalry in the world, games between Real Madrid and Barcelona transcend the footballing aspects as the two greatest Spanish clubs are identified with the opposing political currents in the country.
Real Madrid are the royal club representing the Spanish nationalism, while Barcelona have always been the opposing side, in favour of the Catalan nationalism, strongly advertising the independence of the region.
Real Madrid and Barcelona were ranked the world’s most valuable sports teams in 2014, and as the two globally recognised brands the two Spanish household names attract a lot of attention across the globe.
The first ever game between the two greatest Spanish rivals was won by Real Madrid 2-1 in a 1916 Copa del Rey match. Los Blancos are neck-to-neck ahead of the Catalans with the tally of 92 wins to Barcelona’s 90. The total of 48 El Clasicos ended in a draw.
The biggest victory in El Clasico history was recorded on 13th June 1943. Barcelona beat Real Madrid 3-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals, but were subsequently beaten 11-1 at Santiago Bernabeu in the return leg, which proved to be one the finest performances ever produced by Los Blancos.
The most awarded clubs in Spain boast a fantastic record of trophies. During their entire history, Real Madrid and Barcelona have won 80 and 85 trophies, respectively. Barcelona hold the slight advantage when it comes to the crowns won in last five years, having filled their cabinet with 13 trophies to Real Madrid’s 7.
The transfer background
Since 1902, altogether 33 different players have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. However, only three of those have made a direct move from Los Blancos to Blaugrana, while 17 of those have gone the other way, most notably the current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, who was the last Real Madrid player to make a direct switch to Nou Camp.
The first player to move from Barcelona to Real Madrid was Alfonso Albeniz in 1902, when he replaced his Barca shirt for Real’s, while the latest was Javier Saviola who switched the sides in 2007.
Perhaps the most notorious switch was Luis Figo’s move from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000, a transfer that the Catanuya faithful still describe as the great betrayal.
The only one
Over the course of history, some big names played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, as it was sad above. However, only one of the legends such as Michael Laudrup, Bernd Schuster, Samuel Eto’o and others has managed to score El Clasico goals for both Real Madrid and Barcelona.
That one is none other than Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima.
The rivalry between the two Spanish clubs has been given a different dimension over the past few years, and it is highly unlikely that we will see any player in the near future playing for both teams. Some of the past players are hated, some have failed to leave the mark, but the Brazilian Ronaldo perhaps remains the only one to be loved by all.
And that is his another distinction in the rich El Clasico history.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi
Conceivably two best footballers on the planet play for Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have in recent years formed a formidable rivalry, which puts the game into another perspective.
The Portugal powerhouse has this term scored 13 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid, while the Argentine architect has only six goals next to his name. However, Messi has not featured for Barcelona since the end of September and the 2-1 win over Las Palmas, and is still struggling to make it to El Clasico.
There is only one La Liga game separating the two world’s greatest, as Ronaldo has so far player the total of 211 league games for Real Madrid versus Messi’s 212 in Barca shirt.
Cristiano Ronaldo has won four major honours last year, including the coveted Ballon d’Or, which he won for the second season in a row. On the other side, Messi has one less than his Real Madrid counterpart.
Saturday’s game will mark a milestone for Leo Messi, a decade of El Clasicos. The 28-year-old played his debut game against Real Madrid exactly ten years ago, on 19thNovember 2005, in a 3-0 victory at Santiago Bernabeu, which saw the entire stadium applaud Ronaldinho for his astonishing displays that will be forever written in the history books.
Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling in form and is heavily criticised for his recent performances by the Spanish media. The Portuguese failed to maintain his goalscoring record, failing to find the net in seven of the eleven La Liga games, and he will be keen on making a swift return to his old ways.
On the other hand, Messi will be hoping to get a chance for a run in the fixture, having been pushing for his place in the team in the past few days. Luis Enrique will most likely start his key player on the bench and bring him later in the game.
One thing is certain, we are in for yet another highly amusing encounter. The bookies have set the odds for the highly anticipated event and Real Madrid are 6/4 to claim a win over their great rivals.