On Monday night one of the biggest, if not THE greatest rivalry will take place in Catalonia in Spain’s and Europe’s largest stadium, Camp Nou.  Actually, el Clásico is the second most followed club football match in the world only succeeded by the UEFA Champions League final.  This weekend’s derby will be a spectacle as both teams are absolutely brimming with confidence, both are evenly matched and are possibly in the best form of their lives.  It will also see the show down of a number of individual battles but none bigger than Messi versus Ronaldo.

Both are magnificent players that can change a game in a second, as we saw Messi did so well in the Argentina – Brazil friendly where he single-handedly defeated Brazil in the final minute of the game to hand his beloved country a 1-0 victory over their fierce rivals.  Later that day we saw Ronaldo do the same against Spain.  He caused the World Champions’ defence all sorts of problems.  The entire football world is divided on who is better but in my opinion we should all enjoy their unique qualities, their brilliance and the entertainment that comes with it as they have all wowed us on the pitch on so many occasions with their magical ingenuity.

Lionel Andrés Messi

Quick, impeccable close control, with an eye for goal and the ability to slither pass defenders makes him one of the most dangerous players in the world of football.  Messi is currently the reigning World and European Player of the year and is looking quite likely to repeat this accomplishment with his recent performances.  He has been in absolutely brilliant form not just for this year but for the past two years he has been on a steady increase in growth.  Still only 23 years of age this youngster still has A LOT of football in him and the potential to get even better than his current state (I can’t even begin to fathom how much better he could get.  Scary when one thinks about it).  Already considered a legend for his current achievements, Messi still has a long way to go before he can truly be considered  a legend of the game or even be compared to his fellow country man and former coach of Argentina, Diego Maradona.  He is still writing his history.  He is yet to win a World Cup with Argentina and only then can we really begin to compare his achievements to that of the great man.

Over the past years, the little Argentine has been achieving some amazing records and statistics at such a young age.  He has already managed to score 56 goals for the calendar year 2010 and recorded his 100th La Liga goal in the record 8-0 thrashing of Almería last weekend.  He now has 101 goals in 154 appearances in league for Barcelona, that is an average of 0.67 goals per match for the little guy.  Overall appearances stand at 232 with 150 goals and 61 assists-  average of 0.65 goals per match.  Basically, there is a 65% chance he will score in a match for the blaugrana.

His records and achievements, both on an individual and club level speaks for itself.  He has won 4 La Liga titles, 1 Copa del Rey, 4 Spanish Super Cups, 2 Champions League, 1 UEFA Super Cup and 1 Club World Cup with Barcelona.  Individually he’s won a plethora of accolades such as: FIFA World Player of the year (2009), FIFA Team of the year (2008, 2009), European Footballer of the year (2009), U21 European Footballer of the year (2007), Onze d’ Or (2009), FIFA U20 World Cup player of the tournament (2005), FIFA U20 World Cup top goal scorer (2005), Copa América young player of the tournament (2007), La Liga player of the year (2009), La Liga forward of the year (2009), La Liga foreign player of the year (2007, 2009, 2010), La Liga Ibero-player of the year (2007, 2009, 2010), La Liga player of the year (2009, 2010), Pichichi Trophy (2009/10), Barcelona’s top scorer for the season (2008/09, 2009/10), European Golden Shoe (2009/10), UEFA Champions League Player of the year (2008/09), UEFA Champions League forward of the year (2008/09), UEFA Champions League top goal scorer (2008/09, 2009/10), UEFA’s Team of the year (2008, 2009), FIFPro World Player of the year (2009), FIFPro World Young Player of the year (2006, 2007, 2008), FIFPro Special Young Player of the year (2007, 2008), FIFPro World XI (2007, 2008, 2009), World Soccer Player of the year (2009), World Soccer Young player of the year (2006, 2007, 2008), FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball (2009) and Player of the year of Argentina (2005, 2007, 2008, 2009).

All accolades he is truly deserving of for his phenomenal performances.

Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro

Speed, skills, a powerful shot, dead ball specialist, with an eye for goal and the ability to turn defenders out with his silky smooth moves makes Ronaldo one of the most feared players in today’s game and the mere mention of his name drives defenders into angst.  Unlike his counterpart, Messi, Ronaldo have been a player that has achieved a lot at different clubs most notably at Manchester United.  Ronaldo is a past winner of both the World and European Player of the year in 2008.  Cristiano is one of the most professional players in the game, he has an incredible work rate and is always the first to come down hard on himself if his performance was not flawless.  At only 25 years of age and already the captain of his country, CR has achieved things that most players spend their lives dreaming about.  He can now say he’s played for two of Europe’s top clubs (Manchester United and Real Madrid), he’s won countless individual accolades and trophies at the club level and still has plenty more to write in the football chapter of his life.

Since joining Real Madrid Ronaldo has been shooting his way into the Madrid records. Even that of the great Alfredo Di Stéfano’s where netting a half century of goals for Real Madrid is concerned.  Ronaldo broke Di Stéfano’s record on Tuesday night when he scored two goals against Ajax in the Champions League, his 50th and 51st as a Madridista on his 54th appearance for the whites.  Only Manuel Olivares and Gaspar Rubio can boast of hitting half century strikes in less games, 47 and 52 games respectively.  There is a 94% chance that Ronaldo will find the back of the net in every game he plays for Madrid.  While at Manchester United, Ronaldo accomplished a record appearance of 292 games for Manchester United scoring an astonishing 118 goals for the reds, which is a 40% strike rate.

His individual achievements and club trophies are just as impressive as Messi’s.  Ronaldo has won 3 Barclay’s Premier League, 1 FA Cup, 2 Football League Cups, 1 FA Community Shield, 1 UEFA Champions League and 1 FIFA Club World Cup.  At the individual level he’s won the Bravo Award (2004), FIFPro Special Young Player of the year (2004, 2005), Portuguese Footballer of the year (2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09), UEFA Team of the year (2003/04, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09), Sir Matt Busby Player of the year (2003/04, 2006/07, 2007/08), FIFPro World XI (2006/07, 2008/09, 2008/09), PFA Young Player of the year (2006/07), PFA Players’ Player of the year (2006/07, 2007/08), PFA Fan’s Player of the year (2006/07, 2007/08), PFA Premier League Team of the year (2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09), FWA Footballer of the year (2006/07, 2007/08), Barclay’s Player of the season (2006/07, 2007/08), Barclay’s Premier League Player of the month (Nov 2006, Dec 2006, Jan 2008, March 2008), Barclay’s Premier League Golden Boot (2007/08), Barclay’s Merit Award (2007/08), UEFA Champions League top scorer (2007/08), European Golden shoe (2007/08), UEFA Club forward of the year (2007/08), UEFA Club footballer of the year (2007/08), FIFA Club World Cup Silver Ball (2008), FIFPro World Player of the year (2008), Ballon d’Or (2008), FIFA World Player of the year (2008), Onze d’Or (2008), World Soccer Player of the year (2008) and FIFA Ferenc Puskás Award (2009).

Phenomenal achievements by the young Portuguese star and nothing less than what he deserves.

El Clásico Analysis

Both teams can boast of an extremely solid defence.  It will be an Iberian showdown in defence with the duo of Carvalho and Pepe for Real Madrid and Puyol and Piqué for Barcelona.  Four very solid defenders.  Not to mention the showdown between Spain’s number one and his understudy, Casillas and Valdés.  Real Madrid has the slightly better defensive record conceding a mere 6 goals in league while their rivals have conceded only 8.  Both teams are just as prolific in goal scoring 33 goals each.  Ronaldo is responsible for 50% of Madrid’s goals while Messi is for 52% of Barcelona’s.  The whites can boast of being the only undefeated team in La Liga and have been since Mourinho took over as coach.  They will head into the clásico as league leaders.

The first ever clásico took place on May 13, 1902 mere months after Los Blancos was officially said to have been founded (March 6, 1902), which saw Barcelona come out victorious with a 3-1 score line.  However, the first league meeting between the two on February 17, 1929 went in favor of Real Madrid when they traveled to Barcelona and secured a 2-1 win with both goals coming from Rafael Morera López.  Since the two teams’ first league meeting in 1929 there have been some very fervid matches and some magnificent goals and results for both sides and they have went on to battle each other for another 159 games in La Liga.  Real Madrid holds the upper hand in head-to-head with a total of 68 league wins, 20 draws and 62 losses.  The biggest scoreline between these two teams in all competitions would be an emphatic 11-1 win for Real Madrid back in the 1943 Spanish Cup Semi-final second leg.  The record of the biggest league win also belongs to Real Madrid when they recorded an 8-2 victory with goals courtesy of Lazcano (3), Sañudo (4) and Reguerio (1) for Real Madrid and Escola and Guzmán the lone scorers for Barcelona.

Barcelona remains undefeated in their last 4 league meetings, winning all four matches between the two, something they have never achieved before this.  Also, they have won 44, drawn 18 and lost 18 matches at home in the clásico with 250 goals scored between both.

The predicted line up for both teams are as follows:

Barcelona: Valdés, Puyol (c), Piqué, Abidal, Dani Alves, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi and Villa

Real Madrid: Casillas (c), Pepe, Carvalho, Ramos, Marcelo, Khedira*, Alonso, Özil, Di María, Ronaldo and Higuaín*

(*) Players are doubtful

Whatever the outcome of this match it should be a marvel whether you are a Madridista, a Culés or a neutral you are likely to be thrilled and as such should avoid missing the game at all costs.