The first El Clasico of the season kicks off tomorrow and both teams will look to their star players to lead them to victory.

Lionel Messi

1. He has scored at least seven goals against every other LaLiga Santander team

All LaLiga teams naturally fear Messi when he comes up against them, with the No.10 having netted at least seven times against all 19 of the other sides currently in the top division. His favourite victim is Sevilla, against whom he has a whopping 37 goals in 38 appearances. Over his career, he has faced 40 different clubs in the Spanish top flight, with only three yet to concede against him: Cadiz, Murcia and Xerez.

2. He first played with fellow Barça captain Gerard Pique in 2000

Messi and his current Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique have spent most of their footballing lives together. They were both in the same team in Barcelona’s La Masia academy, along with Cesc Fàbregas – part of the so-called “generation of ‘87” and conquered almost every challenge in their path. It was clear from that early age that these players would go on to achieve great things and, although Pique spent time at Manchester United and Real Zaragoza before returning to Barcelona, they have both been in the Blaugrana first-team squad together since 2008, playing 471 matches together. Messi has only played more often alongside Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta.

3. He pays tributes to his grandmother after every goal

The sight of Messi pointing towards the sky with both hands after scoring a goal has become an almost weekly occurrence in LaLiga but not many people know its meaning. It is in fact a tribute to Grandmother Celia, who Messi credits with sparking his interest in football and supporting him as he took his first steps in the game. Sadly, she passed away in 1998 and never saw him play at the top level, but his iconic celebration ensures that her spirit lives on.  

4. He could have played for Spain at international level

Messi has represented Argentina throughout his international career, but he could have been wearing the red of Spain had he accepted an offer to join the national team of the country where he has spent his entire professional career. After spending his childhood in Barcelona, he was eligible to play for the 2010 world champions, but Messi says the idea never crossed his mind. The rest, as they say, is history as he has gone on to become Argentina’s all-time top scorer with 70 goals.   

5. His footballing idol was Pablo Aimar

Many up-and-coming players consider Messi as a role model, but it’s easy to forget that he had an idol growing up too, just like any other aspiring footballer. His was fellow Argentina and former Valencia and Real Zaragoza playmaker Pablo Aimar. They faced each other in LaLiga on several occasions, including on one special night in 2004 when Aimar came up to the 17-year-old Messi, an unused sub on the night, after the game to offer him his shirt. He still treasures that jersey to this day. 

Karim Benzema

1. He’s one of the five all-time top Champions League goal scorers

Benzema’s name may not be the first that comes to mind when thinking of the all-time top scorers in the Champions League, but the Frenchman has a very impressive 64 goals to his name from 119 appearances in the competition. He scored 12 for his first club, Lyon, before adding 52 for Real Madrid since 2009. Benzema currently sits joint-fourth in the all-time standings alongside Robert Lewandowski, and only behind LaLiga greats Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raúl Gonzalez.

2. He scored the fastest goal in El Clasico history

Karim took just 22 seconds to score in a LaLiga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in December 2011, making him the fastest-ever goalscorer in the history of the greatest game in club football. Since 2009 he’s scored nine times against his side’s biggest rivals, ranking him fourth on the active goal scorers ranking behind Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.

3. He could have played for Algeria

Born in France but of Algerian descent, Karim could played for the Algerian national team. In fact, the Algerian football federation is known to have tried to convince him when he was making a name for himself. He chose France and went on to pick up 81 caps for Les Bleues until his last appearance in 2015.

4. A film was made about his life

 ‘Le K Benzema’ was released in 2017 and charted his rise through the ranks at Lyon and to global stardom at Real Madrid, featuring interviews with his parents, friends and teammates. The film also opened up on his friendship with French rapper Booba and his close relationship with coach Zinedine Zidane.

5. He has eight siblings, some of which are also footballers

Karim comes from a BIG family. In total, he has eight siblings – three brothers and five sisters. The Real Madrid star is the third youngest of the family, while his two younger brothers – Gressy and Sabri – have also made a career for themselves in football, although not quite at the same heights as Karim.

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