MADRID, Spain, April 20 – Bitter rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid meet on Saturday in the sixth ‘Clasico’ of the season to fight for three crucial points that will shape the destiny of this season’s La Liga title.
With five games remaining, Real Madrid go to the Nou Camp four points clear of their great rivals knowing that a win or draw will almost certainly break Barca’s dominance and hand Jose Mourinho’s side their first title in four seasons.
Real were 10 points clear of the Catalans just over a month ago but have drawn three of the last seven games while Barca have won their last 11 league matches.
Real’s run, that has opened the door for Barcelona, began with a 1-1 draw at home to Malaga followed by further draws against Villarreal and Valencia.
The goals of Lionel Messi have been crucial in Barca’s recent run — the Argentine has scored an incredible 18 goals in those 11 wins.
Cristiano Ronaldo has also netted 41 league goals for Madrid making it a head-to-head shoot out between the two best players in the world for the ‘Pichichi’ prize awarded to the league’s top scorer.
Both have earned countless man of the match awards, the tricky recent away wins for both sides at Atletico Madrid standing out for great match-winning goals from the two stars.
Messi has 63 in all competitions to Ronaldo’s 53, but if the Portuguese star wins his first La Liga title, against the reigning Spanish, European and World Club Champions, it would surely rank with the best feats in his career to date.
‘El Clasico’ matches have courted a fair amount of controversy in recent seasons with the appearance of Mourinho on the Madrid bench and his attempts to add a psychological dimension to the clash.
The rivalry boiled over at the beginning of the season when Mourinho poked Barca coach Pep Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye during a game.
Mourinho has only beaten Barca once in 10 attempts since he took over in the summer of 2010.
That victory came in last season’s Spanish cup final with a Ronaldo winner in extra-time, but a league title over the Catalans would certainly justify Mourinho’s antics in the eyes of ‘Madridistas’.
To add more spice, the clash comes the weekend before both sides attempt to turn around first-leg away defeats in the Champions League semi-finals in a bid to meet each other in May’s final in Munich.
Real Madrid lost 2-1 to a last-minute goal against Bayern Munich on Tuesday while Barca failed to score in 24 attempts at goal in Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at Chelsea.
In a bid to reduce the pressure on his players Guardiola has continued to reiterate in recent weeks that winning the league is an impossible task.
On Wednesday he was philosophical about his team’s defeat and the battles to come.
“I don’t know what will happen on Saturday and next Tuesday (the Champions League return leg) but I feel that we have triumphed already,” he said cryptically, perhaps referring to Barca’s success in recent years.
Mourinho could rest some of his regulars ahead of the Bayern return clash.
Full-back Fabio Coentrao was criticised for his performance in Germany while Mesut Ozil was replaced in the second-half.
To play Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain in attack alongside Ronaldo has also produced great debate all season long.
Guardiola has left Gerard Pique on the bench for the last two games while debate in Barcelona surrounds the form of Cesc Fabregas who has failed to score since early February and Cristian Tello or Pedro Rodriguez could be favoured.
Mallorca v Zaragoza (1600 GMT), Sporting Gijon v Rayo Vallecano (1600 GMT), Barcelona v Real Madrid (1800 GMT), Sevilla v Levante (2030 GMT)
Granada v Getafe (1000 GMT), Real Sociedad v Villarreal (1000 GMT), Racing Santander v Atletico Bilbao (1400 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Espanyol (1600 GMT), Valencia v Real Betis (1930 GMT)
Ahead of the second league Clasico of the Spanish season this Saturday, AFP looks back at some notable past meetings between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
SIX OF THE BEST CLASICOS
REAL MADRID 11-1 BARCELONA (June 13, 1943)
This cup semi-final second leg helped forge the idea among Barcelona fans that the Franco regime was hostile towards them and had adopted Real Madrid as their team.
Barcelona, the holders, travelled to the Spanish capital having won a heated first leg 3-0 at their old Les Corts home, but the club were heavily fined by the Spanish federation for the alleged bad behaviour of their fans at that game, and the scene was set for an even more tense return.
Before kick-off, Spain’s Director of State Security allegedly entered the Barcelona dressing room and, gun in hand, warned them about the consequences of completing victory in the tie and upsetting the home crowd.
Madrid went on to inflict a record defeat on their rivals, before losing the final 1-0 to Atletico Bilbao.
BARCELONA 2-1 REAL MADRID (November 23, 1960)
Barcelona became the first team ever to knock Real Madrid out of the European Cup when they beat the five-time winners 4-3 on aggregate in the 1960-61 first round.
The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu ended in a 2-2 draw, with Luis Suarez twice equalising for Barca.
The Catalans then won the return 2-1 at Camp Nou, with the Brazilian Evaristo heading home late on to seal the win, although Madrid cried foul after seeing three goals disallowed by English referee Reg Leafe.
Barcelona went on to lose that season’s final to Benfica, while Evaristo left to join Real Madrid at the end of the following season.
BARCELONA 0-2 REAL MADRID (April 23, 2002)
Real Madrid had gone almost a decade without beating their great rivals away from home before winning the first leg of the sides’ Champions League semi-final match-up in 2002.
A delightful chip from Zinedine Zidane gave Vicente del Bosque’s side the lead early in the second half before an equally cool finish from substitute Steve McManaman made it 2-0 in injury time.
A 1-1 draw in the return allowed Madrid to go through to the final in Glasgow, where they beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to win the European Cup for the ninth time.
REAL MADRID 2-6 BARCELONA (May 2, 2009)
A Johan Cruyff-inspired Barcelona won 5-0 in the capital in February 1974, but this victory in May 2009 remains the only time that Madrid have conceded six to their great rivals at the Bernabeu.
In Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge, the win cleared the path for Barca to reclaim the league title from their rivals.
Gonzalo Higuain gave Juande Ramos’ side an early lead, but Thierry Henry equalised soon after, and both the Frenchman and Lionel Messi went on to score doubles for the visitors, with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique also netting.
Barca won the title by nine points and the result prompted Florentino Perez to begin a new Galactico project when he returned to Real for a second spell as president that summer, with Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema all signing in a huge summer spending spree.
BARCELONA 5-0 REAL MADRID (November 29, 2010)
Not the first time that Barcelona had inflicted a ‘Manita’ — a 5-0 defeat, or Little Hand — on their rivals in a Clasico, but the presence of sworn enemy Jose Mourinho on the Madrid bench for the first time in the fixture made this win all the sweeter.
Madrid came into the game a point clear at the top of the table and unbeaten, but were ripped apart, with David Villa scoring twice, and Xavi, Pedro and Jeffren also on target, while Sergio Ramos was sent off for the visitors.
Barcelona went top and never again relinquished the lead, while the result remains the heaviest defeat of Mourinho’s managerial career.
REAL MADRID 1-0 BARCELONA (after extra time, April 20, 2011)
Real’s victory in last season’s Copa del Rey final proved that Mourinho’s side were capable of beating Guardiola’s Barcelona after five previous failed attempts.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning headed winner finally separated the teams towards the end of extra time at the Mestalla in Valencia after a pulsating 90 minutes had finished goalless.
The win also allowed Madrid to lift the cup for the first time since 1993, although the men in white have failed to repeat their victory over the Azulgrana in seven subsequent Clasicos in all competitions, including a 4-3 aggregate reverse in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey in January.