El Clasico: the biggest, most meaningful match that doesn’t matter that much

The big one.

It’s almost time for the biggest match of the season that doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as people think it surely must, the Classic, Barça v RM, top of table vs second place.

You can ladle on all kinds of stuff, Messi/Ronaldo, Bale/Neymar, midfield vs midfield now that Modric is back, that flank battleground that tipped things in their favor as Marcelo ran rampant. TV stations are filling up hours and hours of coverage and supporters of both sides are worried sick, creating all sorts of ways that their team will lose, they all assert publicly as in their own fevered imaginations they are creating victory scenarios.

History needs this match — big, nasty and undiluted by the incessant frequency of recent seasons, when the two Liga giants seemed to be knocking heads every other week. How in the hell is anyone supposed to get ramped up to face a team in the Most Giantest Match EVAR, when just last month you faced that same team in … well … the BIGGEST MATCH EVAH!

This season, fate has conspired to return hyperbole to normal. Two Classics, home and away, unsullied by Copa or Champions League meetings, as it should be for two opponents made bedfellows by history, rancor and shared excellence.

At the beginning of the match, Barça will be sitting with a 1-point lead in the standings over RM, a lead that culers are worried about because they have already forgotten how they deemed their team a downright mess, a crisis-laden lot that would be lucky to finish third in the Liga. That’s in the past. In the present is a Liga that is in the balance, a Liga never won that was declared lost time and time again after an Anoeta assault followed by Malaga madness.

And so it will be again should Barça lose on Sunday.

But the reason that this match doesn’t really matter as much as so many people suggest is that it’s just another match in the standings. This isn’t like the Super Bowl of American football, a hype-fest in which gibbering loons slather a Roman-numeraled gladiator fest with mammoth piles of excess. The Classic is a regular-season match that history and animus makes into something more than it actually is.

Win or lose, both of the main title contenders (but don’t be shocked if Atleti makes that late-season run) will drop points this season. The Classic isn’t going to decide the Liga. The Mestalla is, the Sanchez Pichuan is, a host of other little grounds have the potential to upset the apple cart of expectations. Sevilla has not lost at home this season. Valencia is sitting and plotting, resurgent and rampant under its coach, Laurence Fishburne. There is worry at every weekend, disaster potential made all the more acute by Champions League quarterfinal matches that throw a Wednesday match in before a Saturday match.

The Classic is the big one. Let’s understand that. But it’s the big one for reasons that really have precious little to do with a mere 3 points in the standings. In the past, the situation of the Liga truly was minnows vs giants. When Barça and RM faced off in a world in which draws were the new losses, scoreboard stasis was the only hope that lesser sides had. The Classic WAS the league. Win that, and the lead, standings permitting, would be sufficient to make the victor’s supporters ready to plan victory parade routes.

These days, the Liga isn’t interested in rolling over and showing its belly. Some of this is due to giants hobbled a bit by form and aging superstars. Some of it is the talent assembly line that is Liga academies creating home-grown troublemakers. Pressure, form, injuries, rotation all combine to make the Liga more a gauntlet to be run than a procession to be enjoyed. It’s not only a lot more fun, but in many ways it robs the Classic of its league-deciding import even as the historic aspects of the match remain, and those are sufficient to made us giddy with anticipation.

Just look at the roster, man! Any team would be thrilled to have even one of the names that will be sitting on the bench for either side in this match, never mind the starting XIs. These are the best of the best, players who combine to make an everyday XI seem a fantasy football league where you got the cheat code and an unlimited budget in Football Manager. How can two groups of players of that quality meet, and that match NOT mean everything in the world.

The Classic is a victim of its own hype, and the supporters of each team fall prey to that inflation. It’s 3 points in the standings. Win the Classic and lose the Liga? It’s very possible as each combatant has three or four matches that could prove its undoing, even after this clash that will decide the fate of the world.

So should you worry about the outcome of this match? Well, hell yes, you should. It’s Them, the eternal rival, the Aging Peacock and the Cafeteria Lady, buttressed by the return of the Accountant and He Who Hits No One. RM is a very dangerous football team, made all the more so for having strengths that play to Barça weaknesses, multiple threats that can all scrabble at the lock of a defense that defends more by influence than actual defending.

But you should worry because you hate like fiery Hell to lose to that team, rather than because it will mean winning or losing the Liga, because it won’t. Win or lose, it won’t. Win, and Barça is 4 points to the good, with visits looming to Atleti, Sevilla and Valencia, not to mention the Catalan Derby. If RM win, Valencia is coming to town, not to mention that visit to Sevilla or a faceoff against traditional bogey team, Getafe.

I will bust out my luckiest kit, scream until I am hoarse and fall from things. But it will be because I hate the opponent. Not because I think winning or losing this match will be truly decisive.

What will happen?

It’s hard to say. On paper you have to favor RM, who was sitting at home watching Barça run around and press like crazy Sprites on Wednesday. Around the 40th minute is when that reality might start to creep in, and around the 70th minute is when the advantage might show for the fresher team.

When these teams first met, Barça was still this embryonic force fraught with uncertainty. Neymar scored early, then he and Messi missed bang-on excellent chances that had the potential to make that match a very, very different affair. That’s easy to forget, even as the Potential Game dooms us to speculative Hades. The 3-1 loss was closer and more interesting than the scoreline indicated.

For this match, form is an interesting thing. Some suggest that they are trending down while Barça is trending up. That remains to be seen. What isn’t in doubt is that the two most important players for each side are the secondary superstars, Bale and Neymar. If either has an exceptional match, I suspect his team will win. Jordi Alba will have to be at his Yaya-felling best, and Neymar will have to develop the swagger that he had in the early season, and edge that saw him scoring almost for fun.

Neymar will be Barça’s key player. Messi will be big match Messi. Count on that. The real question will be the effect that Neymar can have on the RM defense that still doesn’t quite know how to deal with his disruptive effect. If he has a good match and scores a goal, it’s easy to see a 3-1 Barça win. If his recent scoring form holds, things become a lot more complex.

An added problem is that the wide-open Barça attack will have to be reined in to keep from playing into RM’s hands. Want to play run-and-gun football? Whee! Let’s do this. The beauty of our team being able to play many different styles is that it will need to shift gears and keep the damn football. This won’t be easy against their midfield, which will feature a fresh Modric just back from injury, and a rested Kroos, not to mention the constant threat of Isco. Culers who discount their threat do so at their own peril.

I love this match, even as it fills my gut with bile and my heart with fear. Rationally, it’s only three stinkin’ points. But the Classic is ruled by irrationality, and that’s what makes it so beautiful, so compelling as a sporting event.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

21 Comments

  1. March 21, 2015

    The most immediate decisive step ahead of us to win the liga. Thats how I look at the match. However, I can also say, I just want to feel proud at the end, saying, we won the classico.

    In his latest article Sid says the number of could have been assists of Messi is 55!!!.

    Watched the City match again, and its a pity Neymar didnt had his scoring boots, he could have scored 4/5, Messi and Suarez at least 2!! Incredible. Even if we manage to create half those number of chances, I think, we will go through with an excellent win.

  2. georgjorge
    March 21, 2015

    “I love this match, even as it fills my gut with bile and my heart with fear”

    Great line and great article. Can’t wait!

  3. barca96
    March 21, 2015

    Darn it! Before I could even read the other piece, a new one came up.

    ESP government want to fine tv presenter for saying he’d “throw those 70000 Basque and Catalan pigs who want to attend cup final in the sea”

    Could it be the mad presenter Roncero?

    • georgjorge
      March 21, 2015

      What the…I don’t even…ON NATIONAL TV?

  4. Inamess
    March 21, 2015

    In the course of human events it is hard to rank the importance of this Classico, but I would put it roughly as the equivalent of D-Day: June 6, 1944.. Should this match be won, RMs La Liga chances will be shattered. They will be put in a tailspin for a fortnight in which they will face the enmity Marca and Madridistas in a campaign so vicious that not even the combined forces of the BBC, the New York Times and Pravda will be able to stem the tide.

    After that, it will be up to our Atletico compatriots, our fifth column in the capital to eviscerate RM this season once and for all in will be the equivalent of the Battle of Stalingrad. Should RM lose to Barca and Atleti in the next three weeks, their season will be over by mid-April and the ramifications of that will be stunning.

    Should Barca then go on to Treble glory let us know that we did not do it alone. We will enjoy the fruits of a historic season it would not have been possible without the tremendous sacrifice of the brave Simeone who will have knocked RM out of all three competitions this year as his players put life and limb on the line. Some cules may call Atletico a bunch of thugs. I call them liberators and freedom fighters.

    And when we secure La Liga late in May at the red hot Cauldron, a joint victory procession should be declared as Ronaldo and Bale pack in that same city for their new destination–a return to England as the new poster boys of “THE BEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD”.

    WE can do this! IT’S 2009 ALL OVER AGAIN!

    • G6O
      March 21, 2015

      Inamess says:
      March 21, 2015 at 11:15 am
      In the course of human events it is hard to rank the importance of this Classico, but I would put it roughly as the equivalent of D-Day: June 6, 1944.

      I’m sure there are people in Russia who would agree 🙂

  5. SemperFi...
    March 21, 2015

    A yr from now Madrid might find themselves back in the relative obscurity they were in when Barça fired Rijkaard & brought in Masia old boy, Pep… Ronaldo doesnt hav long b4 his legs start losing a cm worth of sprint, & Madrid’s president has to b thinking about that constantly.

    Uncle Florentino is all about maximizing business & as immature as Ronaldo might come off sometimes – he has to know this fact & these things might b playing on his mind – hence the selfishness & ego coming out in full again. Ronaldo has limited time & its making him edgy. Meanwhile Messi is back to his best becaus his health is back to its best … No more lengthy injury layoffs for Messi that Ronaldo can capitalize on & win Player of the Year stuff.

    Clasico might b a taste of things to come in regards to Madrid’s decline. The Madrid president spent yrs & 100s of millions building a Madrid team to rival the once in a lifetime Madrid he had when Zidane & co mesmerized the world.

    This Madrid still doesnt hav the swagger & fluidity that 1 had. Its mechanical, much like its flagship striker; that it was built around. Florentino obsessed in bringing in a support cast to suit Ronaldo. It took 4 yrs since signing that specific galactico, & the last few seconds of the 2013/2014 UCL final to achieve.

    When Ronaldo finally starts showing real signs of losing mental & physical sharpness that makes him who he is (albeit a mechanical robot), uncle Flo might’ve sold him by then. Which will b the start of trying to find that crack for Madrid again, & a supporting cast for that crack if its found, & while thats done, try & keep track of a Barça that has genuinely found an identity again. They tried doing that when Barça found their/an identity again, under Pep, & they got slapped stupid.

    Madrid still does not really hav a distinct style of play, even after all these yrs & billions spent. Yet, Simeone’s 11 crazies do. Thats wat happens when u r forced to make do with wat u hav & build something from it. Real is & was always about quick fixing. They don’t get given a chance to formulate a footballing identity becaus it takes time & patience, something uncle Flo despises with a passion. U cant buy team unity like u find with Barça, Bilbao & Atleti. This is how God evens things out. Nevertheless, don’t b surprised if something like a manita happens tomorrow. Even if it doesnt, this Barça will run with all they’v got unlike last season… A running Barça is a winning Barça most of the time. If anything, they’v been running (hard) since the start of this season & still r

  6. SemperFi...
    March 21, 2015

    Ironically i write this & somebody else had somewat a similar view in mind… Guess i’m not the only 1 that has been thinking that history could repeat itself. Could repeat itself…

    Yet, this team is still a work in progress

    • Inamess
      March 21, 2015

      Great Post SemperFi! Fully agree with your take on Ronaldo and hope that the Apocalypse for RM starts tomorrow. If we let them escape the Camp Nou with anything but a loss it would be an enormous opportunity missed and one might only come along a few times per decade. Let’s hope the scoreline will be one to remember like our 6-2 and 5-0 or Atleti’s 4-0 this year.

  7. Jim
    March 21, 2015

    I don’t know. I’m not thinking this is going to be easy, or a given, at all.

    They are hurting and a lot of futures are riding on this – Bale, Ronaldo and Ancellotti for starters. We win, they start the infighting which I reckon would account for at least two of the above.

    However, they are not fools. What have they got in place to stop the ball getting to Messi or Neymar ? Will they make us go through the middle for a change ? Will it be up to our midfield to carry it to them ? I’m not even sure we won’t see BBC broken up. That’s what I’d do. Play four in the middle. They did that in the first match where legend has it ( wrongly as far as the first half is concerned) we were outplayed ( and the second half was difficult) but actually our three in the middle outplayed four for the whole half and we should have been out of sight.

    Remember, they didn’t play three up front because they were worried about what our midfield could do. I see that happening again tomorrow and we’ll need to be ready for it. It would be completely foolish, imo, to play three in the middle and expect to get the ball easily to the front three. If we do that Xavi is an essential. Our other option is to use Iniesta instead of Neymar as we did last year to give us midfield superiority. That’d essentially give us one up front ( Suarez) and Messi roaming wide right and a number of midfielders able to crash the box.

    The crucial thing for me is an early goal. Any plan they come out with will be fragile and I reckon they are scared at the moment. An early reverse for them and the ship could sink. Give them a mistake and we might rue it. We need good games from Mathieu and Masche who will prob be at DM. You wouldn’t risk Busi although I’d play him there in this sort of match all day every day.

    Anyway, can’t wait. For me, the game’s psychological overtones are pretty important for the rest of the season.

  8. luisthebeast
    March 21, 2015

    Barca B may relegate but i dont understand why people are so mad about it.Segunda is a very difficult league and u need some players with experience.And we must understand that Barca B history has a lot of seasons in Segunda B.And if we look at all the top clubs in europe,their B teams dont play in such a difficult league.So for me is not such a tragic thing.

  9. Inamess
    March 21, 2015

    Can’t wait for a colossal game tomorrow featuring the best rivalry in all of sports with the best players in the best league in the world.

    My Prediction: Liverpool 3 – Man U 2

    • barca96
      March 21, 2015

      I bought it 😆

  10. luisthebeast
    March 21, 2015

    Haha that was a good one!!!I hope LFC will beat them and in the end they will finish at top 4!!I have a big respect for them,they are almost 25 years without a championship but for me they were they are and they will be the Biggest club in england!!When i was a kid LFC was the best team in europe for a decade and more!!I hope next season the CL final will be BARCA-LFC!!!

  11. barca96
    March 22, 2015

    What is going on with Barca B? Blitzen? What’s your take on this? You watch their matches right?

    What Hallilovic did wasn’t cool at all. I know it’s really frustrating but you just don’t do that especially when you’re not even in the 1st team yet. This may hurt his future at such a disciplined club. He seems to have disciplinary issues. Fined for announcing his injury to the world and now this;

    http://youtu.be/Ss1K12YgVxE

    I don’t understand Vinayls though. Usually when there is a red card, you take out an attacker, not your creative force in the middle. I remember Lazio getting a red card just After Salas came on, Ericsson took Salas off and he took off his jersey and threw it to Ericsson saying you don’t do this to me. I disnt agree with Salas back then but Salas sure had more reason to be angry than Hallilovic. The former was one of the best strikers and part of a dream striker partnership with Vieri.

  12. rg23
    March 22, 2015

    Hi fellow cules. I’ve been coming to this blog for a long time and have only posted on few occasions. Mainly enjoy reading Kevin’s posts and the comments section and I can say it is truly the best blog out there.

    Is anyone on this site going to the clasico today? I travelled to Barcelona with my wife without a ticket and I was thankfully able to purchase one ticket through the official site the day before the game (it was hard!). I feel so lucky and I am so excited to watch my first clasico live!
    Now I am trying to find a ticket for my wife as well but everything is sold out on the official site. What prices to the people outside the stadium sell their tickets for? I am willing to pay a reasonable price for it if I can get my wife to go with me as well.

    Also, are there any places to hang out outside the stadium or in the stadium premises during the match? Is it usually empty or are some of the cafes open? Would love to hear some recommendations.
    And good luck to all of us. Hoping for a great match. Visca!

    • rg23
      March 22, 2015

      and by Kevin and I of course meant Kxevin… 🙂
      (damn autocorrect on my laptop!)

    • March 22, 2015

      rg23, getting a ticket on match day that you can be sure won’t be counterfeit is next to impossible. Heading for one Classic, I saw a guy on the Metro with a stack of what must have been 50 carnet replicas. He was headed for the grounds to sell them to unsuspecting people for an exorbitant price.

      There were exactly zero seats left as of yesterday. You might get lucky and find someone trying to sell a seat when someone didn’t show up, but again, that’s doubtful. Sorry.

      All of the bars and restaurants around the Camp Nou will be open and packed. Locals tend to just head straight for the match, however. There isn’t really a place to hang outside the stadium, nor inside. The Botiga will be a zoo as people stock up on shirts and other regalia, but the Camp Nou really is an island in the middle of a neighborhood.

      It’s also worth an in-person check at the Camp Nou. Every now and again, a few tickets come available on match day.

      Good luck, and enjoy the match.

    • March 22, 2015

      The official site shows seats available.

  13. bcdr
    March 22, 2015

    Barca B are losing countlessly, at this moment, making fun over other club’s B team is quite foolish. But I gonna make fun about RM Castilla. In January, Castilla were top of the table. Since Odegaard joined the club, the are losing without counting. Now with today’s loss, they have lost 4 matches in a row and now 7th on the table.

  14. March 22, 2015

    Two hours and forty-five minutes to go. Pre-game jitters finally in full swing, not even a second espresso can calm them. This is The Big One, even though in the stands it matters as much as a home game against an already-relegated team. Three points in play, but coincidently not just any three points. The three points against the old rival, against the darlings of the Capital. Just as I am writing this, about 1500 km away from Camp Nou, I am absolutely certain that there are people praying, within shouting distance and in direct view of the stadium itself. Those people are at the Les Corts cemetery, praying, asking for help in front of the tombs of the legends of the club, the tombs of family members and friends, praying for victory against the white invaders. A scene probably very much like scenes two millennia ago, when hardcore fans would pray before the home altars of pagan deities for victory at the Races in the Big Circus or victory in the Coliseum. It’s a pagan ritual, because Christianity teaches turning of the cheek, something unthinkable in this situation.
    Yes, in the stands it’s just three points. Or one. Or none. And yet… It is much more than that. What is in play is the victory against the most expensive team in the history of organized sport. What is in play are the bragging rights, the bragging rights of being The Best, the Victors, the Top Cocks, The Alphas wolves of the pack that nobody crosses.

    After Parc de Princes the cries went up. “Didn’t you see, leaky defence, rookie keeper, same old deficiencies masked by sparse individual brilliance.” “Just wait for Real, they will dismantle you properly, eternal Segundones” came the mocking laughter. And after Bernabeu came Celta, and the jeers and the abuse became louder. Just you wait for PSG and Ibra smoldering for revenge! PSG came and went, and just like a calm in a storm, the jeers and doubts stopped… until Real Sociedad. This was the real hurricane, the full-blown crisis and the point of no return.

    Atletico came to town, strolled, as befitting the team that handed Real their asses both in La Liga and Copa del Rey, Atletico came to town as the deserving Champions of Madrid, for the first time attacking and trying to contest the midfield from a Barcelona team in crisis. Except that this Barcelona team was in the mood to break things, hoping that someone will give it a pretext to vent the bile, all the pent-up frustration and anger. That defeat was followed by Atletic elimination in the Copa del Rey, including a crowd-silencing staredown at The Cauldron. Then came the next hurdle, the next dragon to slay, City, that team incapable of winning one second, defeating Bayern Friggin’ Munchen led by Pep Freakin’ Guardiola in the next. The last representative and hope, the reigning Champion of an overhyped League with bottomless pockets, fervent supporters and little else, this City was defeated both away and home.

    And now it’s Real. The only big team that has faced this work-in-progress Barcelona and can boast of victory. This is what is at stake. A victory today will wipe out the last 30 minutes of Bernabeu. It will stamp the last seal of authenticity to this changed Barcelona, the Barcelona of the non-existent midfield and counters, the Barcelona that bought the biter Suarez, the Barcelona of the less Spanish and fewer La Masia graduates than the already legendary Pep team. It will also be another step towards a trophy that was denied by tragedy, by circumstance, by lack of fitness and referee mistakes. A win today at Camp Nou will mean four points of distance, with nine matches to go in La Liga. That is little, oh so little, but it can be also oh so huge.
    This team will come back from international break to face a challenge and run a gauntlet that will require absolutely every ounce, every gram of dedication, strength, elbow grease, resolve and will to endure and emerge victorious from this remarkable group of footballers we are privileged to watch. The knowledge that whatever fate and chance have thrown against, this team can defeat. The bone-deep assuredness in their own strength and their quality. This is also what is at stake. But whatever comes after international break, it’s immaterial. It’s hypothetical and theoretical. Support our team, culers, with all your hearts, with all the support and faith and belief that we can muster, because they deserve it. This is the moment of truth.

    Nothing else matters. Nothing else exists.

    Força Barça.

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