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Bish's Briefs - Beautiful Barca face Money Madrid in 'El Clasico'

Published: 24 Nov 2009 - 09:20:49

On Sunday evening, in the Catalan cauldron of the Camp Nou, two perennial enemies collide - one, the Spanish domestic double holders and European Champions - the other, the most expensive squad of footballers gathered in the games history - it is the biggest game in club football on the planet.

Sunday night is set to be the most expensive showcase of footballing talent ever staged - nearly £500m of investment could be thrust into the Spanish spotlight, and that, should you forget, includes the talents of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Raul and various star-studded others who cost their clubs nothing.

The landscape for this colossal clash is set perfectly - Real's fortuitous 1-0 victory over Racing Santander on Saturday evening which was closely followed by Barcelona's 1-1 draw in Athletic Bilbao's San Mames, means that for the first time since Florentino Perez brought his deeply dug pockets back to the Bernabeu, his side lead Barcelona in the La Liga table.

Between them, they have won 12 European Cups - more than the collective efforts of all the champions that have emanated from England (11).

In terms of footballing brilliance this fixture is sprinkled with stardust like no other, consider the following: The last two European Footballers of the Year could feature on Sunday night (Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo). The last 4 European Footballers of the Year have played for Barcelona or Real Madrid – Ronaldinho, Fabio Cannavaro, Kaka & Cristiano Ronaldo.

But let's not leave it there. Since 1997, only two winners of the Ballon D'Or have not played for either Barcelona or Real Madrid – Pavel Nedved (winner in 2003) and Andrei Shevchenko (winner in 2004). Impressive.

But how about this? Since 1994 the ONLY player to win World Footballer of the Year that has not played for Real Madrid or Barcelona is George Weah (who won the title in 1995). That means that the winners of World Footballer of the Year in the last 13 years have ALL played for Barcelona or Real Madrid during their careers - Romario, Ronaldo (3-time winner), Zinedine Zidane (3-time winner ), Rivaldo, Luis Figo, Ronaldinho (2-time winner), Fabio Cannavaro, Kaka & Cristiano Ronaldo. 10 of those 13 awards have seen the winner playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid in the year that they won the award.

Real Madrid, mainly thanks to their monopoly of the European Cup in its formative years, have won it on nine occasions and their current squad boasts the two record goal-scorers in the competition's modern guise - the Champions League. Between them, Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy have amassed 122 goals in the competition, Raul with a record 66 and van Nistelrooy 56.

Between the two squads on Sunday evening are a collection of 34 Champions League winners medals - mainly thanks to Barcelona's recent triumphs of 2006 & 2009 whilst Raul and Guti in the Real squad can look as far back to 1998 to their first European triumph.

What makes this game so unique is the animosity between the two clubs - Real Madrid the flag-bearer of Spain and Barcelona the most symbolic entity of Catalonia, a rivalry that fuses culture, politics, language and ideology, particularly in football terms.

The current environment in which both squads currently operate could not reflect this better. 18 of Barcelona's first-team squad of 30 spent their formative years at La Masia - the club's esteemed academy. Seven of them started their successful Champions League final v Manchester United in Rome back in May. Eight of Real Madrid's 26-man 'galatico' obsessed squad came through the club's youth system - only five have worn the white of Madrid in La Liga.

It is this philosophy that may help Pep Guardiola through his current injury crisis. 'El Classico' could not come at a worse time for Barca's coach. With Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure and Rafael Marquez all likely to be missing after contracting swine flu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic struggling with injury, his woes were compounded on Sunday night when it was revealed that Lionel Messi, totem of Barcelona, had sustained a 'Grade One' injury to his thigh in Saturday's draw in Bilbao.

Not only do Barca have Real to worry about - they could be eliminated from the Champions League with a defeat to Inter at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night.

However, Barca's dynamic 4-3-3 formation that has yielded such success and allows them to attack in numbers and press with intensity the second they lose the ball is mirrored throughout their exemplary youth set-up. If a player becomes injured, the next man can step up to complete the jigsaw, knowing the intricacies of the formation after having them ingrained into them day after day on the training field.

This philosophy goes some way to explain the success Guardiola has had when he has needed to integrate and call upon youngsters such as Pedro, Bojan and Sergio Busquets. The player may not have the same ability as a Messi or an Iniesta but he allows the side to function to the institutionalised dynamic.

The likely loss of Messi and Ibrahimovic may affect Barca in that Andres Iniesta may be called upon to opearte in the front three. Whilst he undoubtedly has the ability to perform in the role, the team suffer as a consequence.

Barca are at their dexterous best when Iniesta is free to roam from midfield and dart into any gaps that may appear. He has an uncanny ability to pop up late in the box to score himself - think Barca's last-gasp equaliser at Stamford Bridge in last season's Champions League, when Iniesta was stifled until the final fifteen minutes, before he was dropped back into midfield and popped up with the goal that took his side to Rome.

It has the makings of a classic 'Classico' - Ronaldo and Kaka's first appearance in the fixture, Perez's millions looking to catch up with the brilliant Barcelona of 2008-09 and two giant emblems of the game playing out the latest drama in one of football's finest spectacles in front of 98,000 people.

Anything could happen - it usually does. You wouldn't want to miss it.

READ BISH'S BRIEFS EXCLUSIVELY AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK EVERY TUESDAY

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:andy bishop
Having worked in radio, newspapers, magazines, internet and television I hope to now bring my passion for the game to your computer screens with analysis, comment and tongue-in-cheek humour on all things global in the world of football - from Barcelona to Boca and from Blatter to Berlusconi...enjoy!

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