El Clasico: Match Preview

LaLiga and world football braces itself for the first ElClasico of the season

The first LaLiga ElClasico of the 2020/21 season sees both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid come into the game after suffering surprise defeats last weekend, when the ultra-competitive nature of LaLiga Santander was again shown by deserved victories for Getafe CF and Cadiz CF.

Defending champions Real Madrid remain just a point off the top of the early LaLiga Santander standings after losing 1-0 at home to newly promoted Cadiz last Saturday, while Barça’s defeat by the same scoreline at a typically rugged Getafe leaves the Catalans a further three points back, down in an unfamiliar ninth position.

Another factor to consider is the staggered start to the 2020/21 campaign meaning that Los Blancos still have one game in hand on current joint leaders Real Sociedad and Villarreal, while Barcelona have played two games fewer at this point.

Zinedine Zidane’s side also picked up some new injury worries on Saturday, with club captain Sergio Ramos leaving the game at half-time with a knee injury which makes him a doubt for this weekend’s game at the Camp Nou. Zidane is already without Eden Hazard and Dani Carvajal for the first ElClasico of the new campaign, but has better fitness news with Eder Militao and Marco Asensio back available again after recent absences.

New Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman also has his selection issues ahead of the game, including left-back Jordi Alba being in a ‘race against the clock’ to be ready for Saturday. Either way new blaugrana full-back Sergiño Dest looks set to become the first ever USA international to play in ElClasico, having settled very well since arriving from Ajax late in the transfer window. Sure to feature is Barça club captain Lionel Messi, whose 18 goals in 27 LaLiga ElClasicos is an all-time record.

Koeman will be looking forward to his first ElClasico as a manager, having picked up five wins and scored five goals in his 11 LaLiga meetings with Real Madrid during his time as a Barça player. The Dutchman scored a double as the Catalans won his first 3-1 at the Camp Nou in October 1989, and also found the net in the historic 5-0 for Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ in January 1994, although he was on the other end of the same ‘manita’ scoreline the following season at the Santiago Bernabeu.

As a coach Koeman has faced the reigning champions just once: a 3-2 victory at the Bernabeu when in charge of Valencia in March 2008, a game in which Ramos and Marcelo both featured for Los Blancos. Zidane had retired as a player by then but has his own enviable record in ElClasico since becoming a coach. The Frenchman has lost just two of nine meetings with Barça across his two spells, and his two wins and three draws from five visits to the Camp Nou is the best record of any Real Madrid coach in history in this fixture.

Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory in the most recent LaLiga ElClasico, thanks to goals from Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz, means the Bernabeu outfit have moved just ahead in the all-time head to head record – 73 wins to 72. There have also been 35 draws – the latest of which was a tightly fought 0-0 at the Camp Nou last December. That game was an outlier given the fixture has regularly produced goals in recent seasons, as well as lots of drama, including Barça’s 5-1 home victory in October 2018. Saturday will see a potential 650 million fans around the world tuning for the eagerly awaited match-up. The staggered start to 2020/21 has made it difficult to judge the teams so far, but a winner on Saturday would immediately become favourite to win this year’s LaLiga Santander title, while a loser would already have a lot of ground to make up.

Players who have crossed the divide

With ElClasico on the horizon we take a look at the some of the most notorious players to have crossed the divide and play for their rival in the world’s most famous fixture.

On July 24th, 2000 Luis Figo became the world’s most expensive player when he signed for Real Madrid from FC Barcelona for approximately €62 million. To the great anger of Barça fans Figo made the move at the peak of his powers, shortly winning the Ballon D’Or after joining their arch-rivals. Figo was prolific for both teams, making over 150 appearances and winning two league titles for each team. Figo eventually left Real Madrid in 2003 having cemented himself as one of the greatest ever foreign players to grace LaLiga.

Perhaps it is down to sheer talent that Ronaldo remains beloved by both set of fans. Il Fenomeno joined FC Barcelona for the 1996-97 campaign from PSV for a world record $19.5 million fee. Despite only staying for one season Ronaldo was imperious, scoring 47 goals in 49 games on route to helping FC Barcelona win the UEFA Cup Winners Cup, Copa del Rey and Spain supercup. Due to issues in his contract Inter Milan met his release clause and, to much Catalan sadness, departed shortly after. Five years later Ronaldo joined Real Madrid for €46 million to the delight of fellow Galacticos Zidane, Beckham and Roberto Carlos. Despite struggling with injuries Ronaldo achieved much success at Real, winning the Ballon D’Or, LaLiga title, Intercontinental, Spain supercup and registering 83 goals in 127 appearances.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation, Michael Laudrup was a key member of Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” at FC Barcelona alongside Ronald Koeman. Under Cruyff’s leadership, Laudrup won nine trophies at the club including four successive league titles between 1991-1994 and the European Cup in 1992. In a controversial move Laudrup decided to join Real Madrid in the aftermath of the 1994 World Cup. His decision was immediately vindicated with the club going on to win the 1995 LaLiga title, making Michael the only player ever to win the Spanish league five times in a row playing for two different clubs. He left to join Vissel Kobe, leaving behind a legacy of being one of the most talented players to play for the two clubs.

The current Spain manager, Luis Enrique, is the fourth player on our list to have crossed the divide. Enrique joined Real Madrid from Sporting Gijon in 1991, spending five years in the capital and notably scoring in their 5-0 win over FC Barcelona in January 1995. Stating that he didn’t feel appreciated, Enrique departed in 1996 for the Catalan giants with his existing contract due to a close. Although treated with caution at first, Enrique become a legend for his new club, staying eight years, becoming club captain and scoring 73 goals in 207 appearances. He retired in 2004 at the age of 34 and went on to manage FC Barcelona to LaLiga and Champions League glory.

Finally, we look at Bernd Schuster who was a FC Barcelona stalwart, making 170 appearances for the club across eight years of service. Schuster was a precocious talent and quickly became a fan favourite, winning the European Silver Ball in 1980 and Bronze Ball in 1981 and 1985. His move to Real Madrid in 1988 was highly controversial and came at a time when Real Madrid were starting to regain control of LaLiga. He stayed at Los Blancos for two years, scoring 13 goals in 61 appearances. Schuster latterly managed Real Madrid in 2007 and steered them to the 07/08 LaLiga title. Other very famous players who have crossed the divide include Samuel Etoo, Javier Saviola, former Valencia CF coach Albert Celades, current Sevilla FC coach Julen Lopetegui, former Indonesia coach Luis Milla, the legendary Ricardo Zamora (who lends his name to the ‘Zamora trophy’ for LaLiga Santander’s best keeper), and most recently Takefusa Kubo, signed by Real Madrid in summer 2019 and now starring on loan at Villarreal CF after having spent four years at Barcelona’s La Masia academy from 2011 to 2015.

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