Barcelona vs Real Madrid. El Clasico. Just the mention of the fixture makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. When La Liga's big two cross swords, the whole of planet football stops to watch.Over the years, there have certainly been enough talking points to keep us enthralled and this season's edition is likely to be no different. In the recent past, the pendulum has swung back and forth between Los Blancos and the Blaugrana with more sub plots, twists and turns than a John Grisham novel.Let's take a look at five of the best recent stories from this epic battle in Spain.
#1 The Casillas and Xavi phone call
It was a phone call which was to destroy any last vestiges of a working relationship that Iker Casillas had with Jose Mourinho. After the Super Cup clash of 2011, when Mourinho famously poked Tito Vilanova in the eye, an angry Casillas called his long-time friend from the national team Xavi.
Clearly incensed that yet another Clasico had been ruined by ugly scenes, Casillas was in the mood to give Xavi a piece of his mind. Yet he clearly hadn’t counted on Xavi’s conciliatory tone. An acknowledgement that both teams needed to look at themselves and their behaviour if they wanted to resolve the issue.
The call ended with a reconciliation of sorts between the two players, but that infuriated the Portuguese who clearly enjoyed stoking the fires between the two clubs. From that point on Casillas was finished. A series of leaks attributed to the custodian saw the tide of public opinion turn against him.
Although it would be a few seasons before he finally left the Santiago Bernabeu, the damage had already been done.
#2 Lionel Messi breaks El Clasico goalscoring record
It was a mark that was thought could never be beaten. Alfredo Di Stefano’s 18 goals in El Clasico fixtures had stood as the benchmark for decades with no one coming near to toppling the record. That was before Messi came on the scene.
A debut Clasico hat-trick in 2007 opened his account and within 27 games over seven years, the Argentine had overhauled his compatriot. His 19th in the fixture came at the Santiago Bernabeu in March 2014, taking him one clear of Di Stefano.
He has since added to the total and, with a good few years left at the top yet, Messi is on course to hold a record that is almost certain never to be beaten.
Arguably the most important that he has scored across the years were the two that came late in the second half of the 2011 Champions League semi-final. It gave Barcelona the platform to go on and win what was their fourth Champions League title at Wembley just a few weeks later.
#3 Sergio Ramos drops the cup
2011 was a vintage year for the Clasico fixture and the Copa Del Rey final was the first time since 1990 that the two teams had met at that stage of the competition. It was also only the fifth time since the 1950s.
Bearing in mind that Real had lost just a few months previously to probably the best El Clasico performance in history – the 5-0 manita of November 2010 – that they would win this match thanks to a towering Cristiano Ronaldo header and in that moment deny Barcelona their second treble in three years was sweet indeed for the Madridistas.
However, the real story of the day is what followed afterwards.
On a victory parade on board an open top bus, Sergio Ramos inexplicably dropped the trophy which was then run over by the bus driver. With no cup to parade thereafter, there followed a surreal quality to proceedings.
It also meant that a brand new cup would need to be made leaving Ramos and Madrid red-faced in their finest hour!
#4 Michael Laudrup\'s unique record for both clubs
We have to go a little further back to highlight a record that is unlikely to be matched. Michael Laudrup was the Lionel Messi of his day in the early-to-mid 1990s. A player so graceful and beautiful that whatever your colours, he was an absolute joy to watch in full flight.
He is also one of only a few players that have made the transition between both clubs and probably the only one who is still universally admired by followers of both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
As an architect of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’, his legend at Barcelona will endure. Toward the end of his tenure in Catalonia in the 1993/94 season, he and Barcelona ran riot in a 5-0 victory over their biggest rivals. It was as comprehensive a performance as could be.
After leaving that summer because he perceived that Barcelona were at the end of their cycle of greatness, he joined Real and was proved correct. Just a few months later Madrid returned the favour with a 5-0 hammering of their own, Luis Enrique scoring for Los Blancos in that one.
Thus, Laudrup remains the only player to have played in two consecutive 5-0 victories in this fixture, and for different sides.
#5 Standing ovation for Ronaldinho at the Bernabeu
2005 saw quite possibly one of the most famous recent instances between the two sides. Given the depth of hatred between both sets of supporters, for either to be able to acknowledge the excellence of the other is something quite special indeed.
Step forward Ronaldinho.
The Brazilian was at his brilliant best as the Catalans tore Madrid apart on their own patch. Two goals helped Barcelona win the game but, in truth, this was one El Clasico that had Ronaldinho’s name scrawled across in 50-foot high letters from the first minute until the last. It was quite simply put one of the greatest performances of all time.
To that end, it is perhaps less of a surprise that the Santiago Bernabeu should rise as one and applaud the prowess of a player who was then at the very height of his powers. For one brief moment, the barriers were torn down and fans of football came to terms with the jaw-dropping magnificence that they had been lucky enough to bear witness to.