Big Game Divide

El Clasico is a truly international fixture, with players drawn not only from Spain but also from the planet’s top national sides. The game sees international teammates line up alongside each other, as well as pitting international colleagues against one another. Here are some of the more interesting international stories ahead of this second ElClasico of the season.

Luka Modrić vs Ivan Rakitić: from Croatian midfield colleagues to rivals

Croatia’s historic run to the 2018 World Cup final was driven by their midfield engine room of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić, two players who together played the tournament of their lives for their country but now find themselves on opposite sides of the divide for ElClasico. While they’ll still occupy the centre of the pitch, they’ll suddenly be competing for possession, rather than sharing it.

Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard: Real Madrid’s Belgian duo

No Belgian played for Real Madrid in almost half a century, but the capital side now have two in their side after signing Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard from Chelsea in each of the past two summers. They play two of the most important roles in the team: goalkeeper and attacking focal point. Courtois and Hazard have enjoyed success with their national team, securing a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup, and will now turn their attention to handing Real Madrid a first ElClasico win in LaLiga since 2016, although Hazard won’t be able to help from the pitch after suffering another ankle injury this past weekend.

Toni Kroos vs Marc-André ter Stegen: The long-range battle

Wearing the gloves for Barcelona is Marc-André ter Stegen, a goalkeeper who’ll know just how dangerous his Germany teammate Toni Kroos can be. While Kroos rarely enters the penalty area, ter Stegen will still have to be wary thanks to Kroos’ deadly ability to find the back of the net from long range. He can also wreak havoc with set-pieces, which could unnerve Barcelona’s defence. Barça will need their goalkeeper on top form. Luckily for them, he usually is.

Lionel Messi vs Casemiro: Yet another rivalry match

Lionel Messi and Casemiro have played against each other 15 times in two of the most competitive matches in world football: Barcelona vs Real Madrid and Argentina vs Brazil. Their last international encounter came in the semi-finals of the 2019 Copa America, when Casemiro’s Brazil overcame Messi’s Argentina 2-0. Their head-to-head record is almost a dead tie: Messi with six victories, Casemiro with five, and four draws apiece. This latest duel will be one to watch, with one of Casemiro’s primary tasks likely to be keeping tabs on the No. 10.

Antoine Griezmann vs Raphaël Varane: A duel of French World Cup winners

They won the World Cup two summers ago, but Antoine Griezmann and Raphaël Varane won’t be thinking about that come Clásico night. The forward and defender will be 100 percent focused on the three LaLiga Santander points up for grabs and will no doubt use their familiarity with each other’s playing style from international duty to gain an advantage. Intriguingly, they’ll likely occupy the same area of the pitch and come up against each other a lot across the 90 minutes.

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