Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium will host the first El Clasico of the 2017/2018 season as Barcelona and Real Madrid go head to head on Saturday night.
Though Los Blancos will be missing talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, this will be more than just a preseason friendly with great pride at stake.
El Clasico has come to North America, for better or worse. “It is difficult to believe, but for the last few years the group that is putting on these events has tried to make us play the best teams possible,” Real defender Sergio Ramos said Friday. “Obviously, it’s something that draws the attention of fans all over the sport. Sometimes the preseason is not as demanding, but we’re still going to play it like a Clasico.”
Fans here often will debate whether the biggest rivalry in sports is Yanks-Sox or Duke-Carolina or Ohio State-Michigan or Leafs-Canadiens, foolishly excluding the word “American” from the discussion. Because if you’re talking about the biggest rivalry in sports, if you’re not starting with Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona, then you’re doing it wrong.
In the history of Spain’s first division, Real Madrid has won 33 championships, Barça has won 24 – and everyone else combined has won 29. Over the past 15 years, they have finished 1-2 in the league 11 times. They’ve combined to win eight of the 18 UEFA Champions League tournaments staged since the turn of the century. When these two play, there are enormous consequences.
This is one time, though, when the American term “exhibition game” is more suitable to the occasion than the preferred soccer appellation “friendly.” Because Real-Barça is not going to be friendly.
“It’s not a typical El Clasico because it’s a friendly, it’s the preseason, it’s a way from home,” veteran Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta said. “But it’s a Clasico, so it’s a special game.”
It’s not as though the two never played exhibitions before. By one unofficial count, they have been involved in 33 such games, in addition to 233 in real competition. Through all of that, with all the incredible players who’ve worn the two teams’ uniforms – Ronaldinho, Maradona and Johan Cruyff for Barcelona, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul for Real – the difference in the series is only two games. Real has won 93 times, Barca 91.
Barcelona has won both of its games in the U.S. this month, albeit with all three goals scored by a player – Neymar – who quite possibly will not be with the team for long. Paris Saint-Germain reportedly is attempting to buy him from Barca, and Neymar apparently wants to move. Real Madrid lost in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw against Manchester United earlier in the week.
“We don’t like to lose,” Sergio Ramos said. “But you have to consider it’s preseason. You have to turn the page.”