In sports-crazy Spain, nothing makes bigger news than the impending El Clasico meeting between La Liga giants; FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two Spanish Clubs last met each other at Camp Nou on March 23, 2015 in last season’s 28th match and for the 262nd times including competitive and exhibition matches. Barcelona has an edge by winning on 109 occasions, though in competitive matches, Real Madrid leads with 92 victories to Barcelona’s 89. In March, Barcelona had scored a 2-1 home win and Real Madrid will look for revenge at Santiago Bernabeu on November 21, 2015. Spain’s news media is full of stories on the forthcoming El Clasico and every other social, political and economic event is taking the back seat. Apart from Spain, El Clasicos generate a global frenzy, unmatched by any other football game. In contrast, the Manchester derby between English Premier League Clubs Manchester United and Manchester City fails to arouse the same passion.
Why is the El Clasico such a big event? Barcelona and Real Madrid are Europe’s richest and most prestigious football clubs and it is, therefore, not so difficult to conjure an answer to this question with world’s best and most heavily paid football stars lining up on either side. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are currently the world’s biggest football superstars and seeing them together in a 90-minute action is extremely tempting. Besides these two, the who’s who of world football plays for one of the two clubs. While you have Luis Suarez, Neymar, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba playing for Barcelona, Real Madrid have Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, James Rodriques, Kiko Casilla and Tony Kroos to name just a few. With such a huge congregation of famous footballers, the El Clasico is bound to engage even those, whose interest in football could be peripheral. Film stars, politicians, industrialists and other celebrities flock to the El Clasico venue on match day to watch the action first hand. For the general public, the official minimum ticket price for the event was 80 euros some months ago and it soon jumped to 192 euros on Viagogo ticket-selling website. The VIP tickets are priced much higher and the current rate is around 2500 euros. Incidentally, in the last El Clasico game at Camp Nou in March, normal tickets were sold for as high as 900 euros in black market. That was a high-stake match, since it decided the La Liga winner. It was also the highest ticket price for a La Liga game this year and it outstripped the demand for even the UEFA Champions League Final held later in Berlin on June 2015.
With hardly any time left for top-of-the-table La Liga clash between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, the match fitness of Barcelona star Lionel Messi is filling up sports pages of the European print media. Television and social media are not left untouched either. The 28-year old Messi has not played since September 28, 2015 after he suffered the left-knee injury in the match against Las Palmas. Barcelona coach Luis Enrique is not sure about Messi’s participation in Saturday’s much-awaited El Clasico though the Argentinian star took part in a full training session on November 18. As per Enrique, the final decision on Messi will be taken on Friday after a fitness test. Even so, Messi may not play for full-time and Enrique could bring him only after halftime. Meanwhile Argentina’s team doctor Homero de Agostino had sounded a warning to Barcelona management against rushing Messi back so early. As per De Agostino, hasty fitness clearance of the superstar could aggravate Messi’s knee problem. To add to Enrique’s problems, Croatian national star Ivan Rakitic is also a doubtful starter. Rakitic picked up a muscle tear in the UEFA Champions League game against BATE Borisov on November 4 and has not fully recovered yet. Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano also suffered a muscle spasm in Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Brazil in Buenos Aires on 14 November but he is expected to recover from that in time for Saturday’s game in Madrid.
Real Madrid have their own issues ahead of Saturday’s El Clasico. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is reported to have fully recovered from a groin injury he suffered two weeks ago. In his absence Real lost to Sevilla but the Costa Rica star now looks set to play in his first El Clasico. Karim Benzema also had a hamstring problem but he is back to full fitness. It will be Benzema’s first match outing after a two-month absence. Another Real Madrid star Sergio Ramos had a shoulder problem some time back but he is expected to play on Saturday. Real coach Rafael Benitez is under pressure after his team lost 2-3 against Sevilla and invited the ire of the Spanish press. Benitez can make amends by delivering his first El Clasico victory for Real Madrid.