Real Madrid vs. F.C. Barcelona: A Beginner’s guide to El Clasico.


Did you become a soccer fan during the World Cup but are now struggling to follow up on that enthusiasm?  If so, it’s time to talk your doctor about  El Clasico, the crème de la crème of sports rivalries.  No other rivalry in the world mesmerizes fans and draws a line in the sand quite like this one. Its soccer’s Super Bowl, minus commercials of Stephen Colbert’s head cracking open like a nut.  If you’ve been meaning to start watching club football, this year’s El Clasico is the only way to start.  And this year’s edition is shaping up to be perhaps the best one yet.

So, what goes in to making a great footie rivalry?  Well, background is a great place to start.  Today’s culture loves seeing two people, or two sides who hate each other fight it out to the death. Superman vs. Lex Luthor, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Alabama vs. Auburn, and basically and political campaign involving Democrats and Republicans.  Soccer is no exception.  The best rivalries around the world are between sides who

Jun 19, 2014; Sao Paulo, BRAZIL; Uruguay and FC Barcelona forward Luis Suarez (9) celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game against England during the 2014 World Cup at Arena Corinthians. Uruguay defeated England 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sportscannot STAND one another.

Now on top of that, throw in some good ole fashioned political undertones.  Back when Rangers were in the Scottish Premiership, the Celtic/Ranger games were great because, as I said in the first paragraph, there was a line in the sand. On one side, there were Scots loyal to the crown; on the other, separatists.  One side claimed Catholics, the other side Protestants. One claimed the Irish, and the other, the English.

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Barcelona and Madrid provide plenty of political backstory as well, so much that I’m only going to be scratching at the surface.  Real Madrid is considered Spain’s team much like the Yankees are traditionally ‘Murica’s team.  Barcelona is located in a region on the Spanish-French border known as Catalonia (also  my mother’s home country, can I get a hell yeah?)

Catalans speak a different language than the rest of Spain (barring the Basque region) and many consider themselves their own entity. They’re like Spanish Texas, if you consider a Southern drawl its own language.  Spaniards, including many in the Madrid region, look down upon the Catalan lack of nationalism and consider them a nuisance.  What does this make for? Basically the best backstory to a sporting event, like, ever.

But animosity off the field means nothing the product on the field sucks.  Example: I love the Army/Navy game, it’s got great history.  But the fact that I cannot name a single player nor the fact that either team is seldom ranked is a huge roadblock.  El Clasico has neither problem. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are year in and year out two of the best soccer clubs in Spain, let alone Europe.  This means two things: A, a hell of an atmosphere, and B, bragging rights.

As far as the players themselves go, they do not get more world class.  I’d say out of the World’s 20 best players, the two giants combined boast about half of them year in and year out, including the top two spots. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been the world’s to best players year in and year out since 2006 or so (but I won’t say which I think is better just so we can avoid a comment figh- aw, screw it. It’s Messi).  But what about the rest of the teams? What’s the supporting cast look like?

Well, for starters it’s not much of a supporting cast.  Most players on these rosters would be the best on any other team in the world.  But Let’s start with Barcelona.

Barca (soft c, pronounced Barsa) is managed by Luis Enrique, who’s in his first year on the job.  They line up in a 4-3-3 formation, with 3

Sep 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Brazil forward Neymar (10) runs with the ball during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

midfielders playing in a tight triangle at the center of the formation, with the bottom of the triangle resting right above the defense.  Up top, the two outside forwards play wide typically but can take up an array of other positions around the pitch as well. Barca plays a very intricate, pass oriented style meant to control possession and meticulously move the ball upfield in quick, one touch finesse passes.  Once close to goal, Messi is the man looked upon to finish the job but has proven he knows a thing or two about assists as well.

Notable players likely to suit up Saturday for Barca include World Cup 2010 winners Xavi, Iniesta, and Pique, as well as Brazillian stars Neymar and Dani Alvez. Uruguayan sensation Luis Suarez, who signed for Barca after a breakout season at Liverpool, makes his first appearance for his new club after the infamous biting incident over the summer.

Second year skipper Carlo Ancelotti is the head of the current Real Madrid outfit.  Their formation varies as the ever-evolving Real Madrid attack is centered on the idea of giving their forwards and midfielders as much creative control as possible.  Their offense is a unique combination of players with immense skill beating defenders off the dribble, and  out possessing opponents while barraging them with shots; the perfect combination of team football and individual prowess. Typically their formation resembles a 4-2-3-1, close to a 4-3-3 but with a lone striker who typically sits closer to goal than the “false-9” of the 4-3-3.

Big names on Madrid include World Cup scoring sensations James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema as well as Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira, both members of the 2014  World Champion German squad.  Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos are both past World Cup winners as well. Welsh sensation Gareth Bale is likely to miss Saturday’s fixture.

So, there you have it, soccer’s most important, most watched, and most talked about rivalry.  While always unpredictable, (their all-time head to head record is pretty much split down the middle) one thing is for certain; you won’t be disappointed.  That being said, grab some friends, grab some beer, put the beer down if you’re not 21 (we can see you), and say goodbye to your loved ones for the weekend because you’re going out to find that love for soccer that has evaded you since July.  Doctor’s orders.