Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, El Clásico: A guide

So, you want to know more about one of soccer's greatest rivalries?

What is this "El Clásico" anyway?

Meet "The Classic", one of soccer's great rivalries. It's contested between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the two biggest clubs in Spain, who are also two of the biggest clubs in the world.

But this is also a political/cultural battle too, right?

The rivalry runs deeper than just trophies and results, though, thanks to the political conflicts between the cities of Madrid and Barcelona. Through the decades, the two cities have been generally opposed, especially during the Spanish Civil War and the reign of Francisco Franco.

Franco endorsed Real Madrid -- the Real, or "royal" in their name comes from that -- while Catalonia was oppressed by the dictator. Barcelona became the most public symbol of Catalonia, and calls for Catalan independence are still common at Barcelona matches to this day.

That's a highly simplified description of the issues. But if you're interested in learning more, several books have been written about the Clásico, covering both the on- and off-the-field history.

I'm tired of everyone talking about El Clásico, why should I bother watching this one?

Because then you'll have to tell your children that you had a chance to watch Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo and didn't, then they'll question your judgement forever, never heed your advice and end up as degenerates. Do it for the kids.

It's also all about the title race! Real Madrid are in first place, three points ahead of Atlético Madrid and four points clear of Barcelona in third. That means Barcelona cannot afford to lose on Sunday unless they want to fall seven points behind Madrid and effectively out of the title race. A draw won't really help Barca either because while a four-point advantage isn't insurmountable, Madrid simple aren't losing games in 2014. As a result, you have a Barcelona team knowing they need a victory and knowing they'll have to try and take the game to Madrid.

Will that commentator who says all the wacky and often incomprehensible things be calling the match?

Here in the United States, the only thing bigger than the Clásico itself is the color commentary provided by Ray Hudson. The former player and coach has made a name for himself in recent years calling Spanish soccer in his unique "energetic" style.

He'll be working the broadcast for beIN Sports USA this weekend and you'll be guaranteed to hear Xavi called "Chameleon Eyes," Messi called magical, references to fly-eyed vision and loud sounds similar to the call of a distressed bird whenever someone scores. It's kind of like using Rosetta Stone, but for a language less useful than Latin and one that will just bring shame upon you and your family.

I want Real Madrid to win; what should I be looking for in the match?

Madrid are at their best when they're defensively organized and counter attacking through Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. They know better than to try and absorb all of Barcelona's pressure so the midfield is going to be important. The more effective Luka Modrić, Xabi Alonso, and Angel di María can be at disrupting Barca as they try to move the ball forward, the more likely Madrid will get the result they want.

Look for how successful Barca is moving the ball from the back -- usually through Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets -- to the likes of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fábregas. If the ball is getting through the midfield cleanly and Barca are able to set-up around the 18-yard-box, that's bad news. If passes are going astray or getting intercepted, that's good for Madrid.

I want Barcelona to win; what should I be looking for in the match?

Barcelona need to dominate possession and have a high pass accuracy percentage if they want to win on Sunday. We've seen Barca struggle at times this season to translate possession into effective attacking play, usually when their trademarked passing fails to make the precision connections their style of play requires. If Barca are able to keep the ball away from Madrid, get through the midfield (see above) and avoid poor passes and turnovers, chances are they'll find a way to break down the Madrid defense.

It would also help if Lionel Messi, Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta and a couple others combined powers and formed Voltron. Sadly, that's not going to happen...but it would be really cool.

Will the guy with the really crazy hair play?

Carles Puyol is Barcelona's captain and talisman, but sadly he's injured yet again and is not expected to play on Sunday. Puyol has spent his entire career at Barca and will be leaving the club this summer.

Will Sergio Ramos get a yellow card?

Yes.

Cristiano Ronaldo. Lionel Messi. Neymar. Gareth Bale. There's going to be a lot of goals right?

Probably not, but that's not to say it's going to be a snooze-inducing scoreless draw either. Recent history shows an average of around three goals per match between the two teams, but there have been anomalous goal-fests from time to time. The last time that happened was Nov. 2010 -- Jose Mourinho's first Clásico -- when Barca won 5-0.

The last four league matches between the two teams have been decided by a single goal, with one 2-2 draw. That means that there's plenty of defense, but with all that offensive talent on the pitch they'll still find a way through at least a couple times.

Where can I learn more about these two clubs and get in-depth coverage?

I'd suggest checking out Managing Madrid and Barca Blaugranes, our two sites dedicated to covering Madrid and Barcelona.

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