El Clásico — the game between LaLiga powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona — was first played in 1902, making it one of the oldest and most intense rivalries in all of sports. But tomorrow’s match, the 245th competitive contest between the teams, will be unlike any other before it: due to the coronavirus pandemic, the game will be played at Camp Nou without fans in attendance.
That’s not the only change in store for the teams. With Real Madrid currently in 3rd and Barcelona all the way down in 9th place in the standings, both teams find themselves in the unusual position of playing catch up as the season gets underway. To help you get ready for their biggest game of the year, here’s a look at three storylines to keep an eye on ahead of the latest edition of El Clásico, which kicks off Saturday, Oct. 24 at 10am ET on beIN Sports.
Messi’s last goodbye?
With 26 goals in El Clásico, no player has scored more over the long history of this rivalry than Argentinian legend Lionel Messi. His career with Barcelona is already historic: With 636 goals, he’s not just the top scorer in club history, he’s the all-time leading scorer in La Liga (his 445 goals in La Liga games are more than twice as many as the 190 goals recorded by the second best scorer, César Rodríguez).
However at age 33, his career with Barcelona may be coming to an end. In August, Messi went public with his desire to leave the club and with just two goals in five games this season (both on penalty kicks), his recent performance has fallen short of his exceptional standards. A messy divorce from the greatest player in club history is the last thing either party wants, so if they can find a way to move on relatively amicably, this could be the final El Clásico appearance from one of the greatest players of all-time.
Passing the torch?
Should Barca move on from Messi, fans can at least look ahead to the career of Ansu Fati, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the most exciting young players in all of European football. At just 17-years-old, he’s already made history as Spain’s youngest player to score a goal and with four goals in his team’s first five games, he’s already emerged as Barcelona’s top offensive threat.
Fati isn’t the only youngster making noise for the team. In the Champions League opener on Tuesday, his fellow 17-year-old Pedri scored his first career goal for Barcelona in his team's 5-1 thrashing of Hungarian team Ferencvaros. Even if the team splits with Messi, young players like these two should keep Barcelona competitive for years to come.
Can Zidane get Real Madrid back on track?
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane helped guide his team to a LaLiga championship last season, and the former World Cup winner already proved his ability as a manager when he led Madrid to three straight Champions League titles between 2016-18. But last weekend, Real Madrid was beaten by Cadiz — who were just promoted to LaLiga for the first time in 15 years — and the team followed that up with a shocking 3-2 home loss to Shakhtar Donetsk in their Champions League match on Wednesday. Those back-to-back disappointments have put his job under scrutiny but Zidane told reporters on Friday that, “I’ll be with the players to the death.”
Zidane will be getting one of those players back on Saturday, as team captain Sergio Ramos is expected to play after injuring his knee against Cadiz. While Real Madrid certainly started slowly, they have incredible talent across the pitch; what they’ve been missing is passion. But with their biggest game of the season coming against their most hated rival, a lack of enthusiasm should not be an issue in El Clásico.
To watch El Clásico on Sling, use the links below to get the Best of Spanish TV or World Sports for just $5 for your first month ($10 monthly thereafter).