Real Madrid and Barcelona do battle in El Clásico

Two of the world’s biggest soccer teams square off Saturday


Courtesy of Alex Fau

Barcelona forward Neymar has emerged as one of the world’s best players this season. The 23-year-old Brazilian has notched 11 goals in 10 La Liga games thus far and has been viewed as the heir to teammate Lionel Messi’s throne.

Jeremy Beren and Stephen Sanicola

On Saturday, Nov. 21, one of the most anticipated events in European football, known as “El Clásico,” finally returns.

El Clásico, contested between bitter rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF, occurs (at least) twice every soccer season, as the two Spanish giants face off in a struggle for supremacy.

El Clásico may be bitterly contested on the pitch, but its roots developed more in the political realm than the footballing realm. After Catalonia, the region of Spain where Barcelona lies, was conquered and annexed as part of Spain in 1714, it began to lose its cultural identity as Madrid attempted to unify the country under one language. In the 20th century, Generalissimo Francisco Franco ruled the country with an iron fist, his military swiftly crushing any dissent. Catalan and Spanish nationalism continue to fuel the rivalry and have engendered many bitter feelings between the cities of Barcelona and Madrid.

The two clubs also fought for one of soccer’s first true superstars, Alfredo Di Stéfano. The Argentine played for Barcelona at one point and was all set to suit up for the club permanently before the Spanish Football Federation stepped in and rejected his transfer from a Colombian club. Real Madrid took advantage of the confusion, signed Di Stéfano, and proceeded to win five European Cups with him as their star.

Many soccer greats have played in El Clásico. Aside from current superstars Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Dutch legend Johan Cruyff (recently diagnosed with lung cancer) played for Barcelona in the 1970’s, and Real Madrid enjoyed the services of striker Raúl González (15 Clásico goals) in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Former Portuguese star Luis Figo played for both teams in the ’90’s and 2000’s.

Year in and year out, El Clásico always promises to be a great match to watch. The stakes are routinely high with the two rival teams fighting to prove which star-studded side is better. Defending Spanish and European champions Barcelona are well-known for their three high-scoring forwards: Messi, Neymar Jr. and Luis Suárez. Real Madrid have Ronaldo, along with Colombian superstar James Rodríguez and captain Sergio Ramos in defense.

Both teams are currently sitting at the top of the La Liga table, with Barcelona in first place by three points over their rivals from Madrid.

The biggest concern Barcelona fans have dealt with leading into the match is Messi’s fitness. The 28-year-old superstar injured his knee during a game in September and while his manager confirmed his return to fitness, it remains to be seen how much he will play, or if he will even start. Previous reports indicated that Messi would not be fit to play in the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona clash.

This will leave a lot of pressure for Neymar and striker Suárez, who have managed well in Messi’s absence but could face a different challenge at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid on Saturday.

The attackers are not the only ones who will have their skills tested. Barcelona’s defense will have a hard time stopping Ronaldo, who currently has 13 goals this season, eight of which were during La Liga fixtures. With other attackers such as Rodríguez and Gareth Bale fit and in the fold, Real Madrid may have a health advantage heading into the big game.

The latest edition of El Clásico kicks off at 10:15 a.m. Saturday morning. It will be broadcast live in the United States on beIN Sports, in both English and Spanish.