Saturday brings the start four El Clásico matchups in 18 days. The matches will decide not only the Spanish league, but the Copa del Rey and the Champions League as well.
The big question is whether all four of the El Clásico are equally important or whether some are more important than others? The answer to that question depends on who you ask.
Barcelona at Real Madrid, La Liga, Saturday:
No less an authority than Johan Cruyff argues that the first matchup is the most critical.
“The most important thing is always the league, it’s a long-distance thing,” Cruyff said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. “You don’t need to be lucky; you have to play well the whole way. In the Champions League, you can have injuries, a little luck, a little bad luck — so a lot of things can happen in a short competition. So, for me, the league is always very important.”
I can see Cruyff’s rationale here in that the first Clásico will set the tone for the ones that follow. And because of the way that Barcelona destroyed Real in the first meeting in La Liga, 5-0. But the title race is all but over for Real. Even with a Real Madrid win here, I seriously doubt they can catch Barcelona.
Barcelona however know that they can win the title with a draw or win at the Bernabéu, which makes this game more important to Barcelona than Real Madrid.
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Copa del Rey final at Valencia, April 20:
Of the three trophies that these two sides are battling for, the Copa del Rey trophy is the least prestigious of the three. But winning it carries different significance to each team.
For Barcelona the chance to win another treble is not an opportunity to be turned down. But Pepe Guardiola’s side will gladly trade a Copa del Rey crown for victory in the the league or Champions League.
For Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho the Copa del Rey final offers them the best chance to win a trophy this season. Mourinho used the Carling Cup while at Chelsea to get the players used to winning and I expect that he will use the Copa del Rey as an opportunity to install that same winning attitude at Real Madrid.
It’s been several years since Real Madrid won a trophy, which is why winning here is more important to Real Madrid than Barcelona.
Barcelona at Real Madrid, Champions League semifinals, first leg, April 27:
This is the biggest game of the four. Winning the La Liga title or Copa del Rey is great, but for both clubs the holy grail is the Champions League.
Mourinho has a great track record in the Champions League and last season orchestrated Barcelona’s defeat at the hands of Inter Milan. This game is two weeks away which gives more time for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín to get even fitter.
Barcelona on the other hand will hope that Carles Puyol is back at the heart of the Barca defence. Champions League games between sides from the same league are alway a little different. Will Barca attack Real Madrid at the Bernabéu as they will in the game tomorrow, or will they play it like a typical European game and try and head back to the Camp Nou with a valuable away goal?
Real Madrid at Barcelona, Champions League semifinals, second leg, May 3:
Depending on the result in the first leg, this game at the Camp Nou will be either the biggest Clasico in ten years, or the least important of the four to be played.
Will this final matchup be an crowning moment for Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, or a face-saving one in front of 100,000-plus fans? Messi, for one, seems to live for moments like this, to always rise to the occasion, at least when he’s wearing his Barcelona shirt. But if Real Madrid has built some momentum, will he and his game-wear, injury-plagued team have the strength to push back?
What do you think will be the biggest game of the four?