As a dedicated fan of the beautiful game, no matter who you support, there are a number of dates each year that just about all of us circles on our calendars as “can’t miss” matches.
The obvious ones are the dates of major international finals, Europe’s Champions League final, and South America’s Copa Libertadores. There are also a number of club rivalry matches — the so called “derbies” — that get the same treatment. Even if you don’t support the teams battling it out, the history and passion wrapped up in the matches often make them extremely entertaining affairs. Notable examples are the Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter, the Superclásico contested between River Plate and Boca Juniors, the currently-muted Old Firm Derby between Rangers and Celtic, and more recently the Manchester Derby between United and City.
However, the crown jewel of rivalries has to be Spain’s El Clásico.
With apologies to a very excellent Atlético Madrid side, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two best sides on the Iberian peninsula in both a historical and modern context. Between them, the two European giants have won 53 La Liga titles, 44 Copa del Reys, and 13 European Cups. That said, the rivalry runs far deeper than just bulging trophy cabinets. It also has deep roots in the highly charged cultural and political tug of war between the Catalonia and Castile regions of the country.
And this weekend, we all have the privilege of watching the first Clásico of the season as Real visits Barça’s cavernous Camp Nou. Oddly though, the hype in the lead up to this match seems dull in comparison to years past.