Has the absence of Messi and Ronaldo watered down El Clasico?
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The first El Clasico of the season is upon us. There is, however, something unique about Spain's most anticipated game this time around. This will be the first El Clasico in over a decade that will see both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo missing from the equation.
The two monsters have shared the last ten Ballon d’Or awards between them, featuring for two of the best football sides in the world. That has not only heightened interest in the meeting all over the world but the Spanish league in general.
But in football, nothing lasts forever. Ronaldo chose to bring his stay at the Spanish capital to an end this summer. At 33, he has had his day at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’s true he still has a lot to give. But he was always going to leave one day. With Juventus trying to accomplish their own goal of lifting the Champions League trophy again after several near misses, it is understandable they went for the competition’s most successful player in the last few years.
So far, the Portuguese captain is helping the Bianconeri in their charge for another Serie A title and a Champions League trophy win. His cross led to the only goal of the game when they squared up against Manchester United on Tuesday night.
But the fact that Messi is still at Barcelona may have tipped the scales in the Blaugrana’s favour as far as the domestic rivalry in Spain is concerned. Unfortunately for Barca, their talisman got injured over the weekend and is set to be out for three weeks. He will have to watch the encounter from the sidelines.
One of the selling points of this game has been the array of stars on display. Historically, even before Messi and Ronaldo became the focal point for the two sides, they have always paraded some of the best footballers on the planet.
A few names come to mind. Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Raul Gonzalez, Luis Figo, Ronaldo (the Brazilian), Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and even Neymar have all had their mark in the contest over the years. Some of the current players have too. But recent events surrounding both clubs have watered down its appeal.
For Madrid, their biggest mistake was failing to replace their former talisman. That has led to a struggle for goals and suffering several avoidable defeats. A four-game winless run for the reigning league champions also means Barcelona have not been impressive this season. But that does not diminish the importance of this game to both sides. If anything, it makes it even more vital.
Yes, there is still a lot at stake for either side. First and foremost the three points up for grabs in the race for the league title. Then, there is pride and bragging rights for both club faithful. For the managers and players too, they have a point to prove that their recent mixed fortunes have been put behind them.
But for the neutrals, this must be the least anticipated El Clasico in a decade. The usual star power attraction is missing. Not that there are no top players still available in both sides. They just haven’t lived up to their billing of late.
The likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio have failed to shine brightly this season and live up to the high expectations bestowed on them.
That leaves us with an uncharacteristically less anticipated contest. The usual aura is missing or has simply been toned way down, especially as a result of the absence of two key figures who have been the game's headliners in recent times.