Since time immemorial, El Clásico has been the biggest game in the Spanish football calendar. For history and for rivalry, no other game comes close. Over the years, many of these encounters have decided who ends up lifting the league trophy. That said, as we look ahead to Sunday’s clash at the Camp Nou, it’s the capital’s red and white side that currently hold the LaLiga title.
Sergio Ramos: a Clásico great has said farewell
For some players, such as Madrid’s Éder Militão, this clash is still a very new experience. He initially watched a few Clásicos from the subs’ bench but was then tasked with keeping a close eye on Lionel Messi at the Di Stéfano back in April, a game that turned out to be the Argentine’s last. Over at the other end of the pitch, Óscar Mingueza played his first Clásico in that game, trying to contain Karim Benzema, an old hand in this fixture, having now faced Barcelona 36 times during his time at Madrid.
The Real Madrid player with the most appearances against Barcelona in all competitions, however, is Sergio Ramos. Before leaving in the summer for PSG, he had been involved in 45 Clásicos since his arrival at the Bernabéu in 2005. He was the man to have played in most Clásicos in history but missed the last game due to a calf muscle injury. His first Clásico, on 19 November 2005 was a memorable one – Ronaldinho’s recital in the 0-3 win earned him a standing ovation from the Bernabéu, a rare event for any visiting player let alone a Barcelona player.
Following Ramos are other Madrid legends – Paco Gento and Manolo Sanchís both met Barça 42 times during their careers. Former captains Fernando Hierro, Raúl González and Iker Casillas faced the eternal rivals 37 times and Míchel had some memorable battles with the Catalans, 34 of them during his time at the club.
Lionel Messi: Barcelona’s new Clásico era begins
For Barcelona, that match nearing the end of the 2020/21 season saw Leo Messi equal Ramos’ record with 45 Clásico appearances and he is also the fixture’s top scorer with 26 goals, eight more than anyone else on either side. After him there is Xavi Hernández on 42, Sergio Busquets with 40, Andrés Iniesta on 38 and Gerard Piqué (36). (Graphic from SofaScore)
Curiously, Messi made his Clásico bow in the same game as Ramos, having watched the previous season’s clash at Camp Nou from the subs’ bench. He featured in the starting line-up and by the quarter hour he’d already dished out his first Clásico assist, laying the ball off for Samuel Eto’o to set the visitors on their way.
Soon after he had the ball in the net himself, beating Casillas with a wonderful finish curled into the top corner – but it didn’t count as he was offside. His first encounter with Madrid ended on 70 minutes when he was replaced by Iniesta.
Need more Clásico fuel ahead of the game? This is not a bad read from Sid Lowe.