Inside Europe: Who will win El Clasico? Has Barcelona vs Real Madrid lost lustre? Which youngsters could star?
Ahead of El Clasico, Eurosport's offices gathered for a roundtable on the state of Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Has the game lost some of its popularity and prominence after the recent departures of some of Spanish football's biggest stars such as Lionel Messi and others? Which youngsters could fill the void?
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This weekend sees the first El Clasico of the season as Barcelona and Real Madrid renew their grand old rivalry at Camp Nou for the 280th time.
It is the sort of prestige encounter between two of European football's largest entities to traditionally herald the intensifying of the season in La Liga, a fixture of immense commercial and on-field clout played between storied sides decorated with the world's finest, and costliest, footballers.
A very different El Clasico perhaps awaits this season. Real Madrid may be second in La Liga but lost to Espanyol last weekend, and the return of Carlo Ancelotti was perhaps not a managerial appointment to captivate supporters in the Spanish capital.
Barcelona, meanwhile, flitter from chaos to crisis with Ronald Koeman's future very much in doubt despite a lack of obvious successors. The post-Lionel Messi era has begun with the sense that the Argentine had acted as a brilliantly ornate facade to conceal a crumbling Catalan cathedral besieged with problems.
Ahead of the first meeting of the season between Spanish football's super-powers, Eurosport's experts from across the continent gathered to assess the state of one of football's most famous fixtures.
After the departure of Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, has El Clasico lost importance in your country compared to recent years?
Pete Sharland, Eurosport UK: I actually wrote about this last year. I think it had lost some spark even before losing these players. I think losing those players has certainly contributed but, for me, it feels like a less of an occasion now.
I think there are three key reasons: 1. Barca and Real feel less invincible so these games matter less. In the past they were title-deciders. 2. Barca and Real were two of the best clubs in the world, if not the best, and they had the two best (or at least most fascinating) managers in Jose and Pep. Not so much anymore. 3. The commercialization of the game means it is now often at times to suit global audiences. There was something special about the 19:45/20:00 (UK) kick-off time with the lights on. It made it more of an event.
Head Coach Ronald Koeman of FC Barcelona
Image credit: Getty Images
Jorge Ordas, Eurosport Spain: Yes, sure, and it hurts for Spain. For years, we became accustomed to this confrontation being something really extraordinary. Now, we are realising the difference. We only have to cross our fingers and trust that the new Barça jewels end up emerging or that Florentino Pérez produces the money for Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland ...
Florian Bogner: Definitely. There's no anticipation, no buzz whatsoever in Germany for this fixture now. It will be recognised, for sure, but it has the same feeling of a good Premier League game.
Cyril Morin, Eurosport France: Yes, of course. Today, we saw a TV advert promoting the game: it was Karim Benzema against Memphis Depay, presented as superstars. They are not Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, so yes, the interest around the game is the lowest it has been for a very long time.
Both teams are still followed here in France, with Benzema on fire as a bonus, but it's clearly not the same expectations.
Davide Bighiani, Eurosport Italy: Until last year it was also an event in Italy, now it is difficult to say that El Clasico is a "must-watch" for us too. That is quite bad to say.
If before we watched almost exclusively because Messi was on the pitch, today we watch at it mostly to see if Carlo Ancelotti's team - Real Madrid - has the possibility of returning to what it was, a big team both in Spain and Europe. Of course Messi vs Ronaldo was another thing, but it remains Spain's major match.
With the emergence of young stars like Gavi, Ansu Fati, Vinicius Jr and Eduardo Camavinga, who can take the mantle from Messi vs Ronaldo as these clubs' defining individuals?
Davide Bighiani: At Real Vinicius is certainly the player who is most eye-catching, and at Barcelona there is obviously a lot of interest around Ansu Fati and the number 10 shirt. But they are still very young.
Pete Sharland: With Ansu Fati's new deal signed I really like the angle of him vs Vinicius. They both play off the left and they both can be seen as the players who "spark" their sides. I also think watching Pedri and Camavinga battling each other for the next decade will be amazing.
Ansu Fati of FC Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League match between FC Barcelona v Dinamo Kiev at the Camp Nou on October 20, 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
Cyril Morin: I'm not sure there will be heirs. Or, I'm not sure it's something that we should want. But, clearly, if someone has to embody FC Barcelona, that would be Ansu Fati. He checks every box (from La Masia, speed and goals) and has this magic in his feet that permits him to change a game on his own. For Real Madrid, I can see one guy: Kylian Mbappé, who fits the description. But it won't be until next year...
Florian Bogner: Not so fast, Usain! There is nice talent around, for sure, but please don't compare them already to the GOATs of football. For now the Clásico will be a nice game to watch between two former giants of world football, still with a nice sound to it. Let's enjoy the clash of two decent teams for now and not the talked up, hyped up duel of two individuals.
Jorge Ordas: Ansu Fati is a scandalous player. He will never be Messi and the serious injury he suffered cast some doubts over his longevity. So, you have to treat everything that is said about him with caution, but he could provide a lot of joy. At Real Madrid, Benzema is the man of the season, but he's older. Vinícius, if he continues his progression, will be an important player, but perhaps the leader Real Madrid needs is playing at PSG right now ...
Who is your favourite to win the game? Why?
Cyril Morin: I would say Real Madrid. What we have seen from Barcelona this year, especially in the Champions League, isn't very encouraging. This team has too many problems to cover and with Real Madrid being composed of players high on confidence (Benzema, Vinicius, Fede Valverde, Luka Modric), I don't see how Barça can win.
Davide Bighiani: It's easy to say Real Madrid, given the historic low that Barcelona find themselves in and also how Madrid are playing - they have been on form in the Champions League. More than anything else Real Madrid seem to be more united as a team and better coached, while Barcelona still seem to be like 'a little boy still a bit uncertain on his legs'.
Jorge Ordas: Real Madrid are the favourites because they have started the season better but, as Gerard Piqué has said, this game does not follow normal dynamics. Barcelona have powerful young players, players back from injury and will have the support of their fans. Let's not rule out a draw.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Image credit: Getty Images
Pete Sharland: I think Real have to be favourites despite Barca winning their last two games. Barca look so flat whereas Real, in attack at least, look really exciting at times.
Florian Bogner: Looking into our crystal ball ... Well, you have to go with Real Madrid. They look like they are in a nice flow recently, they know how to (counter-)attack. On the other hand it's an away game in Barcelona so ... let's see.