In just a few days, one of the biggest matches in world football shall take place – El Clasico.
The rivalry has blossomed over the last decade, with it often coming down to a standoff between what is widely considered the two best players in the world during the time – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But there is more to this intense rivalry than meets they eye. The match symbolises the clash of two different ideologies on a common football pitch, with encounters having no shortage of drama or intensity. The first Clasico of the season in La Liga comes off the backdrop of a fight for Catalan independence, so tensions will likely be higher than ever at the Santiago Bernabeu.
11. Marc-Andre ter Stegen – Barcelona
After Claudio Bravo moved to Manchester City, the starting spot in goal has been fully seized by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Now 25, the German has blossomed since making the giant leap from Borussia Monchengladbach. Ter Stegen has matured into a reliable figure between the sticks with his improved composure in distributing the ball.
The shot-stopper has also vastly impressed in dealing with one-on-ones, reading the game well, in combo with his elastic reflexes. It is little wonder ter Stegen has 10 league clean sheets to his name.
10. Dani Carvajal – Real Madrid
Having fought his way back into the Real Madrid first-team picture after a season with Bayer Leverkusen, Dani Carvajal has since owed much of his success to his indefatigable mettle.
It is no secret Real Madrid have struggled in defence, but Carvajal has been a constant force in the back-line. The 25-year-old is aggressive and reliable on the right flank, with a no-nonsense attitude, and adept at tackling, as one should be when playing for the twelve-time European Cup winners.
9. Gerard Pique – Barcelona
In many ways, Gerard Pique has become Mr. Barcelona, having been born in the city and given his all for the club, as well as dishing out the odd criticism to Real Madrid.
A mainstay in the defence for many years now, Pique has proven himself worthy of wearing the Blaugrana shirt time and time again. Utilising his towering physique to his advantage, the Catalan almost always comes off the better when vying for the ball.
Add to that his supremacy in the air and it is not difficult to see why Barcelona have, statistically, the best defence in La Liga this season and for many prior.
8. Samuel Umtiti – Barcelona
Narrowly edging out Raphael Varane, there can be no doubts about the immaculate season Samuel Umtiti in enjoying.
The Frenchman has formed an excellent partnership with Pique in the heart of defence and looks to be getting better with every game. Like his aforementioned countryman, Umtiti resembles a new breed of centre-backs developing pace to their game.
The former Lyon man is quick to close down forwards and adds a new dimension of stability to Barcelona in being predominantly left-footed.
7. Marcelo – Real Madrid
While Jordi Alba has had the better season, Marcelo is the better player.
The epitome of the modern full-back, Marcelo is mostly known for his exceptional attacking prowess. The Brazilian international contributes massively to Los Blancos’ attack with perfectly timed, overlapping runs and is an incisive dribbler blessed with pace.
While his positioning can be improved, Marcelo has abundantly proven himself with one-on-ones.
6. Sergio Busquets – Barcelona
Consistently impressive, Sergio Busquets has been nothing short of crucial to Barcelona’s vast success over the years.
The quintessential destroyer, the Catalan has revolutionised the anchor role with his defensive and passing traits befitting that of one of the best side’s in the world. Busquets is an adept tactician and reads the game as good as any player.
The difference between a Barcelona side with and without playing the midfielder is startling.
5. Luka Modric – Real Madrid
One of the finest box-to-box midfielders around, Luka Modric has soared like an eagle from the sub-par ashes of his first season in a Madrid shirt.
Indeed, the Croatian has been pivotal to delivering three European Cups in four years with his sheer skill in the centre of the park. Modric has been irreplaceable in pulling the strings.
Defend, attack and composed on the ball. There is very little the former Spurs midfielder cannot do.
4. Toni Kroos – Real Madrid
Dominating the midfield, Toni Kroos has been a bargain signing for Real Madrid since arriving from FC Bayern Munich in 2014.
The World Cup winner has been valuable with his defensive qualities, but, above all, been instrumental to the Galacticos’ growing trophy cabinet with his passing. Composed on the ball, Kroos operates deeper than the average midfielder, but is no less effective.
If you look closely, the 27-year-old even has a trademark feint that evades an incoming player, as well as a knack for long-range strikes.
3. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona
As elegant as it really gets when it comes to midfielders, Andres Iniesta has undoubtedly been one of the most influential midfielders of the 21st century.
A product of La Masia, Iniesta’s intricate footwork and unparalleled positioning has helped Barcelona carry on their famous legacy of producing entertaining football, following the departure of Xavi.
This season, Iniesta has been a revelation and looks back to his best, as Barcelona sit six points clear at the summit, and eleven above their perennial rivals.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
Five time Ballon d’Or winner. Say no more. Cristiano Ronaldo may be having a slight dip in form (by his standards), but remains one of the best in the world – and so makes his way into this XI.
Oozing greatness, Ronaldo has spearheaded Madrid’s frightening attack to numerous silverware with his sheer pace, trickery and even aerial prowess. Powerful and direct, the Euro 2016 winner has transformed into a Raumdeuter of late in timing his runs to perfection.
1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona
The world’s finest. Superlatives evade Lionel Messi to the extent words do not do him justice.
Like a hot knife through butter, the Argentine scythes through even the most determined of defence and has the finishing to match. Messi has a exceedingly good record against Real Madrid and added to that last season – scoring the late, late winner at the Bernabeu with the coolest of finishes after a smart run.