Every football fan watches hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of football matches in their lifetime, and for most of them, they’re shit, unmemorable, decent but meh, nothing to tell your friends about, or exhibit moments that hook boys and girls/men and women of all ages into this drug we call football.
And every football junkie, constantly looking for that sweet, sweet serotonin of watching a grown man kick a ball into a net, is at times a rush of emotions that transcends each football junkie into nirvana.
But on the flip side, when we take in half-baked rubbish that barely raises a smile or a tone in the voice it slowly but surely taints the heart and leaves it cold black centre that ponders why we even watch it anymore.
And the fixture that encapsulates those highs and lows is none other than El Classico (obviously it’s the headline)
The thoughts of highs from El Classico bring up so many memories and names, Lineker’s hattrick, the goal Messi scored, Bale’s Copa del Rey final goal, or that goal Messi scored that time, or Figo’s goal that led to the decapitated pig’s head thrown at him, or the best one of the lot, that Messi goal.
All these moments are remembered because of the stakes, the two greatest teams with eh world’s best players smashing off one another to see which is best like their children’s toys.
Galactico’s or homegrown, the capital or the wannabe independent state, and yes, Messi or Ronaldo.
But in recent memory, those moments have declined, the money has remained, but the stakes and relevance less so. It is always the biggest show in town, but its A-listers and the curtain closer haven’t been what they used to be for a hot minute now.
Because El Classico is the decider, the stage where bragging rights are awarded, the indication of who’s winning the league, with both sides neck and neck with this game being the decisive result that makes up the 1-to-5-point gap between league winner and runner up
The last time El Classico was the most pivotal game of the season.
Not since the 2016/17 season has this fixture truly meant something the last minute 3-2 winner from Messi, stopping Real lift the title, and force the league to the final day, which real ultimately won out,
That season was the final arc of the dominance of these two teams held over the whole of Europe and culminated on whether the tide of the whole season turned on who walked away victorious from this derby.
The games the following season were no contest, with the title race already over by their first meeting, let alone their second.
The departure of Zidane at the start of the 2018/19 season saw Real Madrid struggle to fill his boots with Lopetagui and then Solari, not even Zidane slipping back into his own shoes proved to fit any better, with their 1-0 La Liga loss, and the 3-0 Copa del Rey semi-final loss
The worst Barcelona team in a generation fell over the league title finish line, without a single competitor to challenge them. That is not entertaining, that is very very troubling. As if the position of the stage they were standing on was being cut around them, by them. Until they finally fell under.
2019/20 was an even worse year for both teams, never mind the Champions League output from both sides, it was the worst title race in decades, whereas before, either Real Madrid or Barcelona capitalised on the misfortune of the other and rode to an easy league title, both teams had eroded even further, which lead to the most lacklustre title race from any league in recent memory.
Where both sides seemingly packed in the season at the same time over and over again which meant they both couldn’t give up the race.
The 2-0 El Classico win for Real in March, proved meaningful but not the significant result, with those being the succession of draws Barcelona churned out against Celta Vigo and Bilbao, while Real Madrid conjured up the most joy-sapping string of 1-0 results with most goals in the post covid period of the season coming from set-pieces and penalties.
Real Madrid, no matter how cash-strapped or turgid they seem should never be seen playing Allardyce football.
Not ever, never ever ever.
Not since the disastrous end to Louis van Gaal’s reign in 2002/03 had Barcelona started a league campaign as badly as this current season, 12th in November, thanks to a 2-0 loss to Real in late October.
The majority of this current La Liga season has been Atletico Madrid’s to throw away, the acquisition of Luis Suarez for just over 7 million euros was proving to be a masterstroke in failure.
A move that typified the Bartomeu era in Barcelona, gifting a team leader to a rival, only for him to become the league top scorer for most of the season, but has since been passed by the new and current top scorer, who should be no surprise,
It’s him, obviously – Messi.
The 2-0 El Classico loss was the darkest point in Barcelona in recent memory, the string of Champions league humiliations, with a third successive lacklustre league start, meant that a mid-table Barca would be almost certainly kissing their Argentinian maestro goodbye to whatever state-backed club wants to chalk up some of their monopoly money to buy the greatest player to ever cross the white line, for a vanity marketing project.
But as all great things start, Barca’s season began to turn around slowly but surely.
Koeman’s Barca infused with the young blood of Trincao, Pedri, Fati, and Frenkie, with the revigorated Busquets, Dembele, and Messi.
Slowly but surely clawed back the points on league leaders Atletico, to the current position, 2 points the difference.
The change in mindset from the broken Barcelona to the reinvigorated one can be showcased in the recent Barcelona president elections, the re-election of Joan Laporta, the president that oversaw and constructed the pep/Golden generation era.
And since his election, they have won every game since, with the style that was expected and unfulfilled in the Valverde and Setien era.
Barcelona has been unbeaten in the league since their December 5th loss to Cadiz, and since then Messi has reverted to 2011-2014 peak form, with 27 goal involvements in 17 games.
Their opportunity to overtake now comes against a Real Madrid side, who have, at their own pace, revitalised the efficiency that saw them crowned Spanish champions last July.
A version of Karim Benzema that has finally taken the leading man role with both fists being the ultimate clutch – scoring in the last five minutes of every game – type of player.
The league’s dark horses have silently trailed behind the travelling circus that Barcelona has been for seasons.
So, with both within a win from retaking top spot, this coming El Classico is the momentum decider.
The heroes journey contrasted in beating the villain that beat them at the start, or, the transition from dark horse to league leader for a Madrid side whose recent victory of Liverpool has to have started the fires in the belly for the hunger that no.14 in Europe is a real possibility.
Regardless of the result, it will majorly affect the title race.
A win for either side puts them on top and leaves the losing side with a major stain in their hopes for domestic success.
While a boring or entertaining draw will allow Atletico the chance to reinstate clear daylight in their title ambition.
It has been a hot minute since El Classico was this important, and the return of this prodigal son of fixtures to “Must watch status” will be welcomed back into the cold dead heart of every football fan.
And maybe even bring a tear in what could be Messi’s final El Classico, which might break the heart.