Hatred, passion and a beautiful brand of football - these are some of the aspects of sport that every 'El Clasico' match between Barcelona and Real Madrid contains.
It doesn’t matter where the game is played (be it the monumental Camp Nou or the striking Santiago Bernabeu), it doesn’t matter who’s managing and it doesn’t even matter who’s in the side at the time, because the deep-seated disdain that oozes onto the pitch is more than evident every time the Blaugrana and Los Blancos take the field against one another.
But in recent years - since Cristiano Ronaldo’s then record-breaking transfer to the Bernabeu in the summer of 2009 - it’s become more and more about the individual battle between the Portuguese legend and his more than worthy advisory, Lionel Messi.
Since both clubs' success hinge on the golden boots of their respective best players, the not so debatable first and second best players in the world (in what order you have them is up to your discretion), an argument can be made for the fact that these matches are a Messi vs. Ronaldo affair.
El Clasico match-ups have started to be looked upon as an opportunity for all who appreciate the game of football to watch the world’s best individual talents battle it out in a blood-filled war, but spectators won’t be getting that Ronaldo/Messi display on Wednesday when the two teams meet in the Copa del Rey final.
News from Carlo Ancelotti and the Real camp says that Ronaldo will be sidelined with a knee/thigh injury sustained in Real's first-leg Champions League quarter-final match-up with Borussia Dortmund.
But even without Madrid’s number seven, this tie still promises to be as enticing as ever.
Tata Martino’s Barcelona side are fighting for what could realistically be their only piece of silverware this year, having just been bounced by La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
The La Liga title race is as tight as it’s ever been and sitting four points behind leaders Atletico with just four games to go in the domestic season, there’s a good chance that Barca only have this one shot at securing a trophy for the 2013/14 campaign. Martino knows how much pressure is on him to beat a Ronaldo-less Real team and how much more pressure is on him to win some silverware for the Catalans.
On the other side of the ball, Real have a realistic shot of pulling of an incredible treble, sitting just behind Atletico in the La Liga table and through to the Champions League semi-finals, where they will face Bayern. It’s not likely that they will take home all three trophies, but it is a more plausible outcome than some might think.
On top of that are the bragging rights - the fact that Barca have won every major club competition there is to win in Spain and Europe in the last five years and Real showing that they can hold a grudge. Gareth Bale - their world-record signing from Tottenham - is desperate for a major trophy and without Ronaldo in the side, it’s he and wonde-kid Isco’s attack to run.
The last Clasico ended in scandal (as they so often do) with debatable calls and mischievous actions at every turn in Barca’s 4-3 La Liga win at the Bernabeu. Judging from what I just mentioned, it’s almost always a poor bet to try and predict what happens in one of these ties, not to mention a cup final of this magnitude.
Leave the predictions for the TV hosts, who will undoubtedly say that without Ronaldo, a Real victory isn’t in the cards. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy one of the greatest rivalries in the world of sport, regardless of who’s out on the pitch.
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