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. Tomorrow’s clash, which hosts Real Madrid go into sitting third in the table on 63 points and Barça, second on 65, could decide LaLiga this year – that is if leaders Atlético continue to drop points.
For some players, such as Madrid’s Éder Militão, tomorrow’s game will be a new experience. He has watched the last three Clásicos from the subs’ bench but will be tasked with man marking Leo Messi at the Di Stéfano. Or trying to mark him. Over at the other end of the pitch, Óscar Mingueza will be playing his first Clásico trying to contain Karim Benzema, an old hand in this fixture, having faced Barcelona 35 times during his time at Madrid.
The Real Madrid player with the most appearances against Barcelona, in all competitions is Sergio Ramos who has been involved in 45 Clásicos since his arrival at the Bernabéu in 2005. He is the player to have played in most Clásicos in history but won’t be able to extend his record tomorrow as he is out with 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.
Barcelona players to have faced Real Madrid the most times
For Barcelona, Leo Messi has played in 44 Clásicos against Real Madrid and is the fixture’s top scorer with 26 goals. He will pull level with Ramos to share the appearances record tomorrow. After him there is Xavi Hernández on 42, Sergio Busquets with 39, Andrés Iniesta on 38 and Gerard Piqué (36).
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.