Real Madrid v Barcelona – El Clasico. One of the biggest matches on the football calendar is fast upon us as La Liga leaders Barcelona travel to second-placed Madrid on Sunday night in a hotly-anticipated encounter.
Some of the game’s greatest moments and goals have been created in this fixture and ahead of the clash, Spanish football expert Andy West picks his five best Clasico goals this century.
Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona
25 April 2004
Xavi’s 86th minute match-winner at the Bernabeu in April 2004 was a deft volley, as the midfielder craftily guided his lofted shot past the stranded Iker Casillas to secure a victory which he later claimed marked the turning point in the balance of power between the clubs.
But that is not why this goal has been included in our top five.
The goal has not been included for the finish by Xavi, but for an outrageous assist by one of the most astonishingly creative and audacious players ever to have graced football’s green grass: Ronaldinho.
Receiving a square pass from Xavi around 30 yards from goal, the Brazilian maverick controlled, paused, looked up and considered his options. Then he did something that few other players would even envisage, never mind successfully execute.
Seeing a white wall of defenders in front of him, Ronaldinho realised he could not go through the Madrid backline. So he went over it. Sliding his right foot under the ball, he casually flipped a lofted pass over the defence in the manner of Tiger Woods caressing his pitching wedge to clear a bunker. Ronaldinho’s pass duly dropped pin-high, straight into the stride of Xavi, who calmly did the rest.
It was not the best finish El Clasico has ever witnessed, but it was quite possibly the greatest assist.
4. Marco Asensio
Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona
16 August 2017
Having won the previous season’s Champions League and La Liga titles in impressive fashion, Real Madrid’s confidence was sky-high as they entered the 2017/18 campaign with the traditional Super Cup curtain-raiser against the reigning Copa del Rey winners, Barcelona.
Zinedine Zidane’s men maintained their mojo with a 3-1 win at the Camp Nou in the first leg, and a festive atmosphere was in full swing as the return match kicked off at the Bernabeu a few days later.
Within four minutes, the mood of the home team was lifted into the stratosphere with the most sweetly-struck long-range piledriver you could ever hope to see.
Receiving the ball 30 yards from goal, slightly right of centre, Marco Asensio looked up to see that no opposition players were attempting to close him down. Given space, Asensio decided to use it by launching a shot. And what a shot it was.
After taking a slight touch to shift the ball onto his left foot, Asensio simply let rip. The ball rocketed off his laces and flew like the proverbial missile towards the Barcelona goal. For a split-second, it looked like the shot would fly too high and continue its ascent to endanger the safety of supporters behind the goal. But around ten yards from goal it started to dip, swerving viciously through the air before finding its target and almost breaking the net. Marc-Andre ter Stegen barely moved, never mind attempting to save it.
And if you doubt whether this goal should be in our top five list, challenge yourself by attempting to find a cleaner strike of a football. Anywhere, ever. You will not.
Real Madrid 0-3 Barcelona
19 November 2005
Scoring a brilliant solo effort to earn a standing ovation from the awe-struck Bernabeu crowd is a rare enough accolade. For that feat to be achieved by a Barcelona player, though, you know it has to be something very special indeed.
A year and a half after his ridiculous assist for Xavi’s matchwinner, Ronaldinho was at it again – this time as the goalscorer.
With Frank Rijkaard’s team on their way to a league and Champions League double, and with a promising young Argentine named Lionel Messi making his Clasico debut, Ronaldinho delivered one of his greatest masterpieces to inspire a stunning 3-0 victory.
After Samuel Eto’o latched onto a Messi pass to open the scoring, Ronaldinho added the second and third goals with remarkably effortless solo strikes, on both occasions cutting inside from the left and breezing past Madrid defenders Sergio Ramos and Ivan Helguera to apply a precise finish past Iker Casillas.
They were both sensational goals, but his first was just about better because of the gloriously nonchalant calm of his dribble as Ronaldinho skipped past Ramos’s right, Helguera’s left and then released a crisp low finish before Roberto Carlos could attempt to make a block or Casillas could dive to make a save.
At the time, Ronaldinho was the best player in the world, and this was his finest moment. Simply unstoppable.
2. Gareth Bale
Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
16 April 2014
With six minutes remaining in the 2014 Copa del Rey final and the game all-square at one apiece, Barcelona were on the attack.
The ball was played into the area, Dani Carvajal made a clearance, Isco helped it on to Fabio Coentrao, who sent it down the left touchline…and the rest is history.
Coentrao’s pass to the halfway line found Gareth Bale, who was immediately being closed down by Marc Bartra. So the Welshman instinctively nudged the ball forward, straight down the line. Recognising that the ball was still in play, Bartra leaned forcefully into Bale to send him off the pitch, seemingly mopping up any sign of danger.
But Bale, by now a good couple of metres into the coaches’ technical area adjacent to the field of play, somehow kept his balance and stunned Bartra by turning into an impossibly fast and powerful sprint, catching up the five yards head start he had conceded to the defender.
When Bale surged past Bartra and reached the ball, there was still an awful lot to do. He was 30 yards from goal, cutting inside from the left wing, with Bartra chasing him down. But a touch from his right foot took the ball inside, cutting off Bartra’s angle. Another prod opened up a narrow shooting angle and, as Barca keeper Jose Pinto advanced, a stabbed low finish with Bale’s left foot beat sent the ball rolling over the line for the one of the most dramatic winners a cup final has ever seen.
1. Lionel Messi
Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona
27 April 2011
The 2011 Champions League semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu was a simmering cauldron of animosity, as Jose Mourinho sent out his home team with the intention of stopping Pep Guardiola’s rampant visitors by any means necessary.
Madrid’s ferociously physical approach led to a red card for Pepe, who was swiftly followed down the tunnel by the protesting Mourinho – joining Barcelona substitute goalkeeper Jose Pinto in being dismissed from the sidelines.
An ugly contest was tied at 0-0 as the latter stages approached, but then came a moment of sheer genius to transcend the game, the occasion and even the sport. The perpetrator? Lionel Messi, of course.
Having netted a close-range opener from Ibrahim Afellay’s cross in the 76th minute, Messi then surpassed himself to double the lead with three minutes remaining.
Receiving a short pass from Sergio Busquets just outside the centre circle, Messi had nine defenders between him and the goal. But he instantly spotted that the opposition had left a big gap between the two banks of four which comprised their defence and midfield. So he played a slick exchange of passes with Busquets, luring Lassana Diarra towards him before running into the vacant space behind.
Xabi Alonso was the next opponent to be bypassed as Messi picked up pace, and as he approached the penalty area he shifted the ball to the right, guiding it away from the tentatively advancing Sergio Ramos. The next obstacle was Raul Albiol, on the edge of the box, but the defender was on his heels and easily beaten by the now-galloping Messi.
Then he nudged the ball back gently back towards the centre of the pitch, protecting it from the rapidly retreating Marcelo, before another touch set up a shot with his right foot which went back across his body and low past Iker Casillas, whose attempt to narrow the angle had no effect whatsoever as the ball rolled gently into the far corner.
After receiving possession from Busquets on the edge of the centre circle, seven touches in seven seconds were all Messi had needed to beat five defenders and the goalkeeper: one to control, another to accelerate past Diarra and Alonso, two more to beat Ramos and Albiol, another couple to hold off Marcelo and the last one to shoot.
The best Clasico goal ever? Perhaps just the best goal ever, full stop.