x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Going inside El Clasico

The head-to-head matchups to watch, important numbers to keep in mind and a look back at five classic El Clasico meetings.

Photo illustration by AFP.
Photo illustration by AFP.

Head-to-Head matchups to watch:

Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi

Ronaldo, 29, and Messi, 26, are two of the most lethal goalscorers in football history. Messi’s season has been disrupted by a two-month injury lay-off but he has still managed 31 goals in 31 appearances in the three main competitions this term and is now Barca’s all-time top scorer.

Portugal captain Ronaldo, who has succeeded Messi as World Player of the Year after four consecutive awards for the Argentina forward, has 41 goals in 37 games, including 13 in the Champions League.

Both players have the freedom to roam and are often most dangerous driving down the centre. Their styles are very different.

Messi plays with schoolboy enthusiasm, making darting runs and exchanging quick passes with teammates. Ronaldo is more of a showman, making muscular charges down the pitch, and his powerful, swerving freekicks are a threat from any range.

Gareth Bale v Neymar

Real and Barca’s marquee signings of the close season have had indifferent and injury-hit starts to their stints in Spain.

Bale, 24, who became the world’s most expensive player when he joined from Tottenham Hotspur, is starting to settle into his role on the right wing and has netted 14 times in 24 appearances overall.

The Wales winger has also made 14 goal assists and appears to be developing a fine understanding with fellow forwards Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

Neymar, 22, has blown hot and cold since joining from Santos and although the Brazilian scored the opening goal in Barca’s 2-1 ‘Clasico’ win at the Camp Nou in October he has only netted once since the turn of the year and 11 in 30 appearances overall.

Xabi Alonso v Xavi

The Spain midfielders, who operate in slightly different roles, are considered irreplaceable. Playmaker Xavi, 34, is the heart of Barca and Spain’s possession-based football and covers a huge amount of ground in a match, linking up play and creating chances.

He has been used more sparingly this season as he approaches the end of an illustrious career.

Alonso, 32, plays in a deeper, more defensive role, typically alongside Luka Modric, but his passes, especially balls from deep in his own half to launch counter-attacks, are a major feature of his side’s play.

Real looked lost without him when he missed the start of the season through injury.

Sergio Ramos v Gerard Pique

Centre backs Ramos, 28, and Pique, 27, will be at the heart of the Spain defence as they seek a second straight World Cup triumph at the finals in Brazil starting in June.

Athletic, committed and a tough tackler, Ramos has transformed himself into one of the world’s top central defenders since switching over from right back and is a real threat at attacking corners but sometimes throws himself too hastily into a challenge.

Five classic El Clasico meetings:

Real Madrid 5 Barcelona 0 (La Liga, January 8, 1995)

Just a year after guiding Barca to a 5-0 win over Real, Danish midfielder Michael Laudrup sealed his controversial switch to Madrid by sealing revenge for his new side by the same scoreline thanks to an Ivan Zamorano hat-trick and further goals from future Barca favourite Luis Enrique and Jose Emilio Amavisca.

Barcelona 3 Real Madrid 3 (La Liga, March 10, 2007)

Lionel Messi announced his arrival on the Clasico stage by scoring a hat-trick as 10-man Barca came from behind three times to snatch a dramatic draw.

The Argentine’s brilliance couldn’t spark a revival in the title race, however, as Madrid went onto win the league, finishing 18 points ahead of third-placed Barca.

Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 6 (La Liga, May 2, 2009)

Pep Guardiola’s first game in charge of Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu was also billed as a title decider as Madrid came into the game just four points behind Barca’s eventual treble winners and on a run of 17 wins and a draw in 18 league games.

They even scored first through Gonzalo Higuain, but Barca responded emphatically as goals from Catalan born centre-backs Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique added to doubles from Thierry Henry and Messi.

Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 0 (La Liga, November 29, 2010)

Barca’s best performance of the Guardiola era destroyed Jose Mourinho’s Madrid to move top of the table and they never ceded that advantage on their way to a third consecutive title.

Messi was once again the driving force, although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, as he provided two glorious assists for David Villa after Xavi and Pedro Rodriguez had put Barca in control before Jeffran Suarez rounded off a famous night for the Blaugrana.

Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 2 (La Liga, April 21, 2012)

Mourinho was to finally have his revenge on Guardiola 17 months later as Real all but sealed their 32nd title by inflicting Barca’s first defeat at the Camp Nou in 55 games.

Fittingly, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who cooly slotted home the winner after Alexis Sanchez had cancelled out Sami Khedira’s opener.

El Clasico in numbers

1:

The number of Clasico games Real coach Carlo Ancelotti and his Barca counterpart Gerardo Martino have each presided over, a 2-1 win for Barca at the Camp Nou at the end of October.

Italian Ancelotti and Argentine Martino replaced Jose Mourinho and Tito Vilanova respectively at the end of last season.

18:

The number of goals scored by Barcas Argentina forward Lionel Messi in official Clasicos.

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner is the highest scorer among current members of either squad and is joint-top on the all-time list with Real great Alfredo Di Stefano. Cristiano Ronaldo has 12 for Real.

18:

The number of cards the most booked player, former Real and Spain defender Fernando Hierro, collected in official Clasicos (17 yellow and one red).

31:

The number of games in all competitions that Real are unbeaten in since they lost to Barca in October. Of those they have won 26 and drawn five.

44:

The record number of Clasico appearances made by Reals Paco Gento. Among active players, Barca playmaker Xavi has the most with 38, ahead of Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas on 34 and Barca defender Carles Puyol on 32.

90:

Real have beaten Barca 90 times in official matches, with 88 wins for Barca and 48 draws.

226:

The number of official Clasicos played since the pairs first encounter in the last four of the Copa de la Coronacion, the predecessor to the Copa del Rey, on May 13, 1902, which Barca won 3-1.

380:

The number of goals Real have scored in official Clasicos, 14 more than Barca.