The white-hot rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid has been particularly intense in recent seasons, and as the 2016-17 season progresses, it is being played out against the backdrop of European football as both fans seek UEFA Champions League glory. Real Madrid are the reigning champions of Europe, while Barcelona will be seeking to recapture the trophy that they won in 2014 to add to success in La Liga at the end of last season.
The dominance of La Liga teams in Champions League football in recent years is due mainly to the success of Real Madrid and Barcelona, though two-time finalists Atlético Madrid can rightly claim some of the credit. Spanish clubs have won six of the last 11 Champions League finals, with Barcelona winning four and Real Madrid twice beating cross-city rivals Atlético. Real have won two of the last three finals, with Barcelona beating Italian side Juventus in between in the 2014 final. That statistic in itself tells an interesting story, as told by 888sport, because no European club side has won consecutive Champions League titles since the competition came into being in 1990
As if the matter of winning the Champions League was not enough, Barcelona and Real Madrid also have to contend with a fierce domestic rivalry that touches on issues of culture, geography and history. Little wonder that El Clásico, the name given to any match featuring the two clubs, has become a worldwide event.
With 32 domestic titles overall, Real Madrid lead the way over Barcelona with 24. Real also have the greater number of European Cups, the overall record of 11 versus five for Barcelona. However, the rivalry is also off the field. Madrid is seen as being a symbol of Spanish nationalism, and Barcelona – Spain’s second largest city – is seen as being representative of Catalan nationalism. Catalans regarded Real Madrid as the “establishment club” during the reign of Franco until 1975.
In recent years, the inter-club rivalry has taken on a new twist as Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has vied with his Real Madrid counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo for the honour of being called best footballer in the world. Messi has won the prestigious Ballon d'Or trophy a record five times, and Ronaldo has won the award on three occasions. Neither Messi nor Ronaldo are Spanish, hailing from Argentina and Portugal, respectively. This reflects both clubs’ ability to attract the greatest names in world football. Current Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane is a former Real Madrid player, and famously won the World Cup with France in 1998 as well as the Champions League with Real. Messi’s strike partners in Barcelona’s three-man forward line are the Brazilian Neymar and Uruguayan Luis Suárez.
As the 2016-17 season plays out, fans can expect Barcelona and Real Madrid to be in contention on both a domestic and European level. There may even be a repeat of the 2011 Champions League semi-final, when Barcelona overcame Real over two legs on their way to beating Manchester United in the final.