El Clasico: the fight for the World's best club
It would be deja vu all over again in regards to Saturday's clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona. After all, the much-awaited weekend's El Clasico is the seventh to take place in 2011. The previous games spread amongst La Liga, the Champions League, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup have for the most part served up some awful football, nasty tackles, accusations of racism, bitterness, conspiracy theories and even an eye poke. One thing is assured: the TRPs of any channel showcasing El Clasico - or perhaps more aptly, 'Hell Clasico' - are sure to rocket through the roof.
People have been constantly reminded that Real Madrid vs Barcelona is more than just a football game. It is considered to be the best contest on the football field. This game is an 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. Forget the intense rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool and the two Milan rivals -- El Clasico carries far more value than any of these contests.
It is next to impossible to argue that Barca and Real are not the two best teams not only in the La Liga, but in the world. Fittingly for the two best teams in the world, they each possess one of the two best players among their ranks, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The list of superstars does not end here; both the teams rival each other man-to-man.
If Barca has Xavi and Andres Iniesta in the midfield then Real have Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso. If Barcelona have David Villa as hit man then Real also has Karim Benzema. From Sergio Ramos to Daniel Alves, from Gerard Pique to Pepe, both teams match each other in every department.
A factor which adds an extra dimension to these two mind-boggling fixtures is the arenas in which they are played. Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu crams a little more than 80,000 spectators, while the Camp Nou in Barcelona lets in around 100,000 supporters. The atmosphere at either ground may be enthusiastic on average for a home game, but come the Clasico and you'd be hard-pressed to find more vociferous support anywhere in the world.
Before a ball is kicked, this particular Clasico is perhaps the fourth most important of the 2011 series behind the epically disgraced Champions League semis and the Copa del Rey final. A win for Real Madrid would give the Santiago Bernabeu side a six-point lead at the top of the table with a match in hand. A draw would still leave a crack in the door for Barca, while a victory for the Catalan club would make the league title nice and open again.
According to form, Real Madrid are seen as favourites to win the match. The strong case for Jose Mourinho's men beating Barça in the Bernabeu for the first time since 2008 is that Madrid are the most in-form side in Europe with Wednesday's 3-0 win over Ajax being the club's 15th victory in a row, equalling a record from the 1960-61 season. This is no longer the stuttering side that was humiliated globally in a 5-0 defeat in the Camp Nou just over a year ago. The current Real Madrid can play pressure football, counter-attacking football, stifling football and at the same time they can go to play dirty if they want to beat their fierce rivals.
After a long time Barcelona comes into the Clasico as underdogs with a poor away record. Guardiola's side have only won two of six games away this season. Only one of Leo Messi's 17 goals this year has been away from the Camp Nou, a stadium where Barcelona have been invincible in the current league campaign.
One thing that again favours Madrid is 'The Special One', Jose Mourinho. Mourinho is arguably the most successful coach of the last decade, winning league titles in three different countries and the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan. Guardiola is only in his fourth season as coach, but has already won the La Liga three times and the Champions League twice. Then again, who would not have won titles with this Barca team?
There is no love lost between them, since Mourinho's Inter beating Guardiola's Barca in their Champions League semi-final in 2010 and the rivalry becoming more intense since Jose joined Barca's bitter rivals.
For the good of the game, the two 'gala elevens' - as they are known in Spain -would ideally be taking to the pitch, and any of the three results are possible. But one thing is for sure: the football will be of the highest quality and the atmosphere inside the stadia will be electrifying.
More about Abhishek NandwaniNot a sports enthusiast by choice, Abhishek has been brought up with the passion as playing turned into scribbling.
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