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Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: El Clasico becomes El Politico

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

The first El Clasico of the season will be held tonight with Barcelona hosting bitter rivals Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. 

Going into the match both teams are currently level on points at the top of La Liga with 35 each from the opening 16 games. Catalan giants Barca sit top of the table due to a better goal difference than the side from the Spanish capital. 

El Clasico is one of world football’s fiercest rivalries but tonight’s clash is even more under the spotlight after the original fixture was postponed in October due to unrest in Catalonia.  

Here we look at why El Clasico is more than just a football match, what the players and managers are saying, and a look back at memorable games between the La Liga giants. 

Catalonia independence

Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region in north-east Spain with a distinct culture, traditions and language. Home to around 7.5 million people, it has its own flag, anthem, and pro-independence regional government. Barcelona is its capital city. 

Amid a growing wave of sentiment for Catalan independence, in September 2017 regional president Carles Puigdemont “ignored warnings from the Spanish government and the country’s constitutional court and pushed ahead with a unilateral referendum” on the issue, The Guardian reported at the time. 

Despite the Spanish government deploying thousands of police officers to Catalonia, the vote went ahead on 1 October 2017. According to the government of Catalonia, 90% of voters opted for independence from a turnout of 42%. 

MPs in the region passed a declaration of independence on 27 October 2017, but around an hour later the Spanish government enacted Article 155 of the country’s constitution, rescinding all Catalan autonomy and suspending its parliament. It was repealed around a year later.

Why was the original game postponed?

The first Clasico of the season was originally scheduled for 26 October but the game was postponed following protests and civil unrest in Barcelona. 

In October this year nine Catalan separatist leaders were jailed for between nine and 13 years for their role in the illegal referendum and a failed bid for independence. The sentencings prompted the violent protests in Barcelona.

Extra security and police escort

Because of the postponement in October, the build-up to tonight’s Clasico has been even more unique.

Spanish newspaper Sport says the security and organisation of the Clasico is “obliged to be controlled to the millimetre in order for the game to be played in as normal circumstances as possible”. 

Real will fly from Madrid today before being taken to the Hotel Princesa Sofia, which is close to the stadium.

The Daily Mail reports that both teams will travel to the stadium from the same hotel two hours before kick-off amid security concerns. Sport says the teams will be on separate buses but with the same police escort.

With tensions growing security will be tight, but the match is set to go ahead at 7pm (GMT).

32,000 sign up for protest

Spanish newspaper Marca reports that 32,000 people have signed up to take part in Tsunami Democratic’s protest at the Camp Nou.

The protest, which is being held to make people aware of the political situation in Catalonia, will be staged two hours before kick-off. Organisers insist that the protest won’t affect the normal running of the match. 

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What the managers and players are saying 

Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona head coach

“We are just focused on what we have to do. We are purely focused on the 90 minutes and a game of football. It shouldn’t affect us at all, it is a question of eating at the hotel. It is not going to affect us in any way. We are watching out for things, we know what people are saying, we are just focusing on the 90 minutes. I think we could have played the game on the original day and there is no reason why we can’t play the game.”

Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid head coach

“On the outside, this can be a week where many things are said, but people just want to watch a good football match. In the end, we have to put our energy out on the pitch. We believe the match is going to be played. It’s a football match and that’s the important thing. We know what we’re facing, we know they have [Lionel] Messi, but we also have our weapons. We want to play a good match against Barcelona, who also hope to do the same.”

Zidane on if the match could be called off again

“I don’t have to explain anything. I’m not here to do that, my job is to only think about what happens on the pitch. We’re preparing to play and that’s the only thing that interests us, I’m not worried about anything, we’re happy to play the Clasico.”

Lionel Messi, Barcelona captain, on playing Real at the Camp Nou

“When we play at the Bernabeu, a lot more space is generated. They’re obliged to come at us more because they’re the home team and the fans are pushing for that. At Camp Nou, they play a different game, looking more on the counter-attack with quick players in attack. In the Bernabeu, it’s face-to-face for 90 minutes. [At Camp Nou] the game is tighter, it’s more complicated.”

Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo: all-time records and career goals

A kiss between Pique and Ramos

At international level Barca star Gerard Pique and Real icon Sergio Ramos were the backbone of Spain’s successful defence for many years. As national team-mates they won the Fifa World Cup in 2010 and the Uefa European Championship in 2012.

On and off the pitch the duo are known for having one of football’s most entertaining feuds. Ramos is the Spain and Real captain while Pique is a vocal supporter of Catalonia’s political situation.

Ahead of the Clasico, a graffiti artwork by urban artist Tvboy has appeared on Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona. The image of Pique and Ramos kissing calls for dialogue between Catalonia and Spain over the region’s push for independence. 

Sport reports: “The Clasico is coming, a moment which is usually a genuine battle of titans. It usually throws up great footballing moments. However, this time, the game is not just about football but also about politics.

“Tvboy’s intention is clear: to promote a solution, passing through dialogue, to the political unrest in Catalonia. Pique represents Catalonia and Ramos Spain.”

As sports journalist Nicolai Lisberg said on Twitter: “El Clásico has become el político.”

El Clasico memorable matches

April 2017: Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 3

Lionel Messi scores a last-minute winner at the Bernabeu.

April 2012: Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 2

Cristiano Ronaldo scores the winner at the Camp Nou.

March 2007: Barcelona 3 Real Madrid 3

Messi nets his first-ever El Clasico hat-trick.

November 2005: Real Madrid 0 Barcelona 3

Barca star Ronaldinho gets a standing ovation from Real fans at the Bernabeu.

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