You’ve probably heard, but there are quite a few blockbuster games on Sunday across Europe. In Spain, you have two for the price of one as Spain’s top flight boasts its own box office super Sunday, or domingo destacado as they might say in Spanish.
El Clasico takes centre stage in mid-afternoon, but as this website’s editor posited it may not even be the best game of the day – let alone the season – any longer.
While Real Madrid have started much the stronger of the two clubs, both will be navigating unfamiliar waters in this iconic fixture. Both captains, Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos – two legendary players who share the record of appearing in this fixture most often – epitomised the rivalry between the two, but neither are here now.
In their stead, young sensations offer hope of a bright future. Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga are just some of the new headline names. As many as nine players could make their Clasico debuts on Sunday: Gavi, Nico, Eric Garcia, Luuk de Jong, Memphis, Sergio Aguero, David Alaba, Camavinga and – yes – Eden Hazard, who has missed all four encounters since his arrival from Chelsea in 2019. Luka Jovic is in a similar position, but is unlikely to feature at all.
Another win for Real Sociedad, another goal for Alexander Isak. They play Atlético Madrid on Sunday in what – genuinely – makes an argument to be the most interesting game in Spain that day. Two exciting, dynamic sides going toe-to-toe. Can’t wait. https://t.co/iYGdUyJY4G
— Alan Feehely (@azulfeehely) October 21, 2021
On the flip side, the veterans who have seen it all before will be crucial in calming the nerves and setting the tone for the game. Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, now the remaining player with the highest number of appearances in the fixture was bullish about Barcelona’s chances, telling Vamos: “We have not started as we wanted, but neither are we very far from Madrid and the leadership”. In the white corner, Karim Benzema is the highest scorer among the current squads, and will be looking to continue his fine form as the Ballon d’Or comes into sharper focus.
The match will be another stern test of Ronald Koeman’s tactical capabilities. The doubts seemed to reach breaking point a month ago, his position almost untenable. But President Joan Laporta’s intervention and clarification calmed the waters, for a while at least. The Dutch coach is unable to boast any kind of positive track record in the biggest matches of his tenure.
While there have been wins over Sevilla and silverware in the Copa del Rey, Koeman is yet to beat a team of equivalent standing at home or abroad. The only exception was in Turin at the start of last season’s Champions League, but this was effectively neutralised when Juventus beat them 3-0 at Camp Nou in the return match. Emphatic defeats to Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid (twice) and Madrid (twice) raise plenty of questions about his competence. Defeat on Sunday would make it four Clasico triumphs in a row for Los Blancos, something that hasn’t happened since 1965.
The Sunday night slot is usually left for the standout fixture in any regular weekend, and there is a strong argument that this remains the case this time. Reigning champions Atletico take on current leaders Real Sociedad in a top-of-the-table showdown. Off the back of a pulsating match against Liverpool in which they were surely the better team on the night, Diego Simeone’s men will be striving to get back to winning ways and regain the momentum.
Facing Imanol Alguacil’s side will be far from easy however, as the Donostians are unbeaten since the opening day of the season. They have managed to keep collecting results in the midst of an injury crisis, and have been missing their talismanic captain Mikel Oyarzabal for the last couple of weeks.
— Alexandra Jonson (@AlexandraJonson) October 21, 2021
Whenever there is a void in the team to be filled, Imanol is confident enough to turn to Zubieta – the academy – and Sanse, coached by Xabi Alonso and holding their own as the only B team in Segunda. There is a growing feeling of appreciation for the work being done in San Sebastian, a functioning synergy flowing through the entire club. It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if they got a result at the Wanda Metropolitano and maintained their leadership.
As for Atletico, their squad is of the highest quality in Spain, and it is certainly the most versatile and balanced, allowing Simeone to have plenty of tactical flexibility. The only concern is at centre-back, a position in which they look light, and was exploited in the early stages against Liverpool.
Antoine Griezmann appears to have rediscovered his goalscoring touch, and he could well be the decisive against his former club. The midfield of Koke, Rodrigo De Paul and Thomas Lemar is the perfect blend of control, work-rate, creativity and the magical stardust to make the difference. Add in a fit and confident Joao Felix to the equation, Simeone has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
This mouth-watering double-header should be enthralling viewing on Sunday, and we should all know plenty more about where the four teams stand come full time at the Wanda Metropolitano. The champions face a challenge by the young pretenders, capable of playing the game their own way, and the Clasico takes tentative steps into its new reality. Despite the absence of legends and many questions about the level of the two teams, the Clasico will always be the Clasico. Players come and go, but the rivalry will always sustain. A new chapter begins on Sunday.