Real Madrid’s 5 Greatest Modern El Clasico Moments
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Vladimir Rys Photography/Getty Images
Real Madrid host Barcelona on Sunday in what is likely to be a frantic and tense El Clasico, with Los Blancos top of the table in La Liga and needing only to keep Barca at bay to tighten their grip on the title.
Sealing the victory and moving another step toward winning the league would be a fantastic milestone for Zinedine Zidane’s team, made all the more poignant by the fact it’s El Clasico—but where would it rank among their finest moments in the fixture’s history?
We’ve taken a look through all the best recent occasions from a Madrid perspective and come up with five moments the fans, and indeed players from those eras, might love to recall over and over.
They may even be set to write a new chapter this weekend.
5. Bale’s Copa del Rey Afterburners, 2014
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There haven’t been too many direct instances where a Clasico fixture pertains to silverware being immediately handed out, but the Copa del Rey has provided two finals between the sides since the turn of the century.
In 2011, Cristiano Ronaldo netted an extra-time winner for Real, but we start three years later: 2014, a 2-1 victory for Real and the winner coming just five minutes from full time.
Angel Di Maria had given Madrid an early lead, and they were good value for the win for much of the match until a most un-Barcelona-like equaliser came off a corner, via the head of Marc Bartra. That came with only 20 minutes left and looked like forcing extra time once more, until the intervention of a certain Gareth Bale.
Usually, players might be getting tired around the 85th minute—particularly wide or midfield runners who are thinking of not losing late on, conserving energy for an additional 30 minutes or being disciplined positionally.
But that doesn’t apply to elite match-winners. Not Bale.
Taking possession on the halfway line, the Welshman took a single touch to unleash his explosive pace, surge down the wing, cut in and win the trophy all by himself in the blink of an eye. Five seconds earlier there appeared no danger; five seconds later and the cup was Madrid’s.
4. Manita in La Liga, 1995
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Everyone in Spain loves a manita, a five-goal win that leaves the opposition humiliated, beaten and broken—particularly when it’s a big rival.
Real Madrid have been on the wrong end of a few in El Clasico, but they have dished it out more than once, too, with the most recent and memorable one coming back in 1995 on home soil.
Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano was the headline hero, notching a hat-trick in the opening 40 minutes, assisting another and, in truth, missing at least three more presentable chances to add to his tally.
Real ran riot through Barcelona’s defence, and key to much of Los Blancos’ dominance and creativity, especially on the counter, was one Michael Laudrup: the Danish attacker who had swapped the Camp Nou for the Santiago Bernabeu just six months earlier.
In the previous campaign, he was on Barca’s team for a 5-0 win of their own against Madrid, and the scoreline followed him to his new club, showcasing his loyalties had well and truly switched.
Jose Amavisca scored the final goal for Madrid, but the fourth was more pertinent to the upcoming Clasico on Sunday: Zamorano’s shot was saved and the rebound tucked away by none other than Luis Enrique, the current Barcelona manager.
3. Chip Scenes at the Camp Nou, 2002
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While not a game that led directly to silverware being handed out, a Champions League semi-final is almost as big as it gets for a Clasico given what’s at stake.
Some seasons, it just feels as though a team’s name must be on the cup, and that’s what Real Madrid must have felt in 2001/02 as they progressed in Europe.
At the time it was the absurd double-group-stage format, and Real finished ahead of AS Roma in the first before a much easier draw in the latter group—Panathinaikos, Sparta Prague and FC Porto.
In the quarters, it was reigning champions Bayern Munich who were dispatched 3-2 on aggregate thanks to an 85th-minute winner from Guti in the second leg, and then it was on to Barcelona.
The knockout run couldn’t have been much harder, in other words.
At the Camp Nou in the first leg, it was extremely tight, with few clear chances for either team—clearly a moment of genius would be what decided the advantage. But it was Los Blancos who had the individuals to come up with that ability to think outside the box.
First Zidane and then Steve McManaman ran through and retained the quality and presence of mind to chip the goalkeeper on both occasions, finding the net in style and giving Real what would be an unassailable lead—a 1-1 second-leg draw was enough to send them on to the final.
There, of course, Zidane had his moment of all moments against Bayer Leverkusen, but without showing that same kind of individual brilliance in El Clasico beforehand, it might never have happened.
2. Ronaldo Calms the Camp Nou, 2012
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Silencing the Camp Nou isn’t the easiest thing to do—but when you’re the best player in the world, even the near-impossible becomes an act akin to breathing.
Real Madrid were charging toward the title in 2011/12, but they needed to navigate a game at the Camp Nou first. A four-point gap meant Barcelona needed the win to really put the pressure on, and when Alexis Sanchez equalised Sami Khedira’s opener with 20 minutes left, the home crowd were baying their team on to attack and take the vital victory.
Three minutes after Alexis’ goal, however, the Catalan faithful were hushed.
Cristiano Ronaldo surged through the defence on to a long pass, rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home from an angle.
Real led 2-1, and his “calma, calma” celebration has passed into Clasico folklore, proving that sometimes the most standout actions are the most low-key and understated ones—not normally words associated with the No. 7.
With the gap at the top duly extended, a confident Madrid finished the season with a further four victories, winning the title by nine points in the end—but, importantly, effectively sealing it behind enemy lines.
1. Guard of Honour, 2008
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Winning the title against Barcelona might be the holy grail of a Clasico matchup, and Real Madrid might have done so in 07/08—but they were a little too good that year.
Barca were down in third, with Villarreal the side between them and Real. Los Blancos had sealed the title early in May ’08, the 35th game week. By custom, it meant that Real’s next opponents would form a guard of honour for the victorious squad, and it just so happened that Jornada 36 was El Clasico.
It was a sportsmanlike gesture, but how galling must it have been for Barcelona players to applaud their most eternal rivals on to the pitch, acknowledging and congratulating their success even before the match kicked off?
And, by contrast, how much superiority and pleasure could Real’s players take from the moment, knowing their status was secured above their rivals?
That in itself would have been quite enough—but once the action got under way, the gap between the sides was underlined in brutal fashion.
Raul scored 12 minutes in, and Arjen Robben doubled the lead. Gonzalo Higuain added another after the break, and Ruud van Nistelrooy leathered in a penalty.
La manita didn’t quite happen, with Thierry Henry instead notching one of the most pointless consolation goals in Clasico history in an eventual 4-1 scoreline, but Real Madrid and Barcelona were both left in absolutely no doubt about which side was on top at that particular moment.
There will be no guard of honour on Sunday—it’s still too early for that—but a Madrid win might effectively seal yet another league title, and a long overdue one at that.