For nearly a decade, as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo established themselves as two of the greatest footballers of all time, El Clasico in Spain was one of the most anticipated club games in the calendar.
While Messi remained the focal point as Barcelona kept attracting the finest talent from across the globe, Ronaldo’s brilliance triggered a revival of sorts for Real as they challenged their arch-rivals.
Now, with the superstars moving on from Spain in their sunset years, the Clasico may not generate the same buzz but there’s still great potential for new rivalries to take centre-stage. In their Rolling Stones shirts to promote the iconic band’s latest album Hackney Diamonds, Barcelona will host leaders Real Madrid in La Liga on Saturday and it promises to be another tense battle.
“When Barcelona and Real Madrid come face to face, the footballing world always sits up and takes notice,” said former Argentine footballer Javier Saviola, who played for Real and Barcelona through the course of an 18-year career.
“I think the Clasico is still a marquee event. Both teams have different styles and have some of the most talented players in the world in their ranks. It will be another even contest this time around.”
There are some injury concerns for Barcelona and it remains to be seen whether Robert Lewandowski, Frenkie De Jong, Raphinha, and Pedri will take the field. The defending champions will rely greatly in the likes of Ilkay Guendogan, Joao Cancelo, Ferran Torres and a clutch of starlets such as Lamine Yamal, Alex Balde, Marc Casado, Marc Guiu and Fermin Lopez.
Real, on the other hand, have a more stable squad at the moment with Jude Bellingham leading the way. The England midfielder has been in fine form this season and is the highest goal-scorer in La Liga. In what will be his first Clasico appearance, the 20-year-old will be determined to make a mark along with Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
“I think Vinicius will be the most difficult player for Barcelona to stop,” said Saviola. “In all the Clasicos that he’s competed in, he’s been the protagonist. Bellingham is dangerous as well but for me, Vinicius is the biggest threat for Barcelona. He’s among the top five players in the world.”
Managed by Xavi Hernandez,-Barcelona are unbeaten in the league but find themselves in third position on 24 points after three draws in 10 games. They’ve also won all three of their Champions League matches this season.
Real are at the top of La Liga with a one-point lead over Girona and Barcelona. Carlo Ancelotti’s side, too, has bagged three wins out of three in the Champions League.
“Joao Felix has had some fitness issues but if he plays, I think he could hold the key for Barcelona. He has the skills to trouble the best players in the world and will need to deliver a big performance,” said Saviola.
“Bellingham, of course, is also very important for Real Madrid along with Vinicius. He’s playing at a very high level and it’s not just about the number of goals he’s scoring, he simply looks like such a complete player at such a young age. He’s showing what he’s capable of in his first year at Real and I’m sure he has a big future ahead of him.”
Reflecting on his time in international and club football, Saviola said he felt privileged to have competed alongside a number of great players but none came close to Messi.
“I saw Messi play for the first time when he was just a kid and not even a professional,” said the 41-year-old. “He was always special, the things he could do on the pitch were out of this world. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the greatest player of all time.”