Real Madrid’s only title celebration of the early part of the (late) 20th century has been the annual Barça Inter-Clásico, in which Barcelona steamroll the team from capital city with regularity and glamour, and there have been some heady moments in between. Spain has made national sport out of their encounters and even Spain’s neighbours have been drawn to form a semi-circle around the games. But Real Madrid finished the season in a 10-3 aggregate victory in 2008. A few years later Lionel Messi’s three goals in the final, despite his flinch-inducing change of feet, were merely a glimpse of things to come. Since then: three Champions League finals against Bayern Munich, in which the sides have been tied on two penalties each, one win against Atletico Madrid, and another shoot-out win against Juventus that was only decided after a repeat of that Barcelona semi-final, only against each other, ending in a second consecutive miracle-goal shootout. Two final victories were, however, eclipsed by the nine consecutive La Liga titles that Real have claimed since a four-year drought was won by the Catalans in 2010.
One of the other favourites for an Inter-Clásico this season was Atlético Madrid, the only La Liga team to ever beat the Bianconeri en primera in the final. Of course, they too came up against a mere little Catalonian with relatively decent world-class performers, and that was Gerardo Martino’s Barcelona, at the end of the World Cup. This year, this year. That probably wouldn’t be as special but, for once, the title clash will not be between Clásico rivals but two European heavyweights in a match-up that will not be short of drama. Real Madrid have their talismanic creator Luka Modric back, Barcelona have their talismanic creator Lionel Messi, who may, or may not, be wearing a subtle smile, although it would appear that a smile has not been in short supply in that pre-season camp down in Perpignan. But that still won’t guarantee the Catalan pressure group a three-point lead after two games. And while it is quite wrong to suggest that there would be nothing in the transfer market for Ronaldo to do with a successful Inter debut against Madrid, the idea is still rather gnarly.
Thierry Henry – talking football, not retirement – has a secret admirer in Barça’s Andrés Iniesta.
“The best two names in football right now” – that’s how the Inter-Clásico is being pitched by Real boss Zinedine Zidane and Barcelona coaches Ernesto Valverde and Luis Enrique. Which is fair enough given how many games they play and their penchant for winning silverware. From our vantage point, however, Iniesta is as excitable as Messi, as cultured as Zidane, and as cultured as everything else in my brain and my room, and, now, my room is