Has El Clásico lost its appeal?

There was a time that the fixture between two of La Liga’s biggest and most successful clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, was the most highly-anticipated match in the European domestic football calendar. A fierce rivalry that has spanned over 100 years, El Clásico has provided fans with innumerable moments of surprise, shock and excitement. But in recent years, it feels as though the fixture doesn’t have that spice that it once had.

Both clubs have undergone recent drastic changes, both on the pitch and in terms of back-room personnel, and that could be a contributing factor to the fixture waning. Of course, later this month, the match at the Nou Camp will be played behind closed doors, with the on-going coronavirus pandemic preventing loyal fans from watching their team. While that could be another reason why the match could prove to be an anti-climax this campaign, there are plenty of other reasons why it has been suggested, it’s lacking in intensity.

Needless to say, betting exchanges like Betdaq will be quick to lure in punters with their latest odds – and it continues to prove a popular match amongst those looking to win some money over the weekend. But let’s take a look at some of the reasons why it can be said that El Clásico has lost its appeal.

Histrionics and referee hounding

Perhaps it’s unfair to focus on El Clásico when football’s dark arts are regularly employed in La Liga. Diving, feigning injury, attempting to get the opposition sent off to secure an advantage, hounding the referee to try and sway a decision – we’ve seen it all too regularly, and not just in recent seasons, but for probably well over a decade.  Sadly, the handbags become more of a talking point than the quality of talent on display, or the scoreline.

Robert Huth was never short of controversy off-the-pitch, and he certainly didn’t mince his words when discussing El Clásico two years ago. No matter what you think of him as a footballer, or a person, he has a point. We’ve seen Real captain Sergio Ramos accuse Messi of putting pressure on referees, and there’s no doubt, the Argentine has said the same of his rivals. But a master of the arts himself, Ramos is no stranger to feeling the officials’ wrath – he is the most carded player in La Liga history (190 – 170 of which are yellow cards), as well as the most sent-off player (20).

No more Ronaldo vs Messi

For nine years, fans were graced with seeing two of the best players on the planet play against each other. The ‘greatest of all time’ debate was never properly settled and there will always be a clear divide between fans of Cristiano Ronaldo and those that adore Lionel Messi. Seeing who would come out on top always added an extra dimension to the matches, and it wasn’t even a case of who was the best on the day (or night), but who would come out on top for La Liga supremacy come the end of the season. But with the Portuguese forward departing the Spanish capital for Italy’s Serie A in the summer of 2018, it hasn’t quite been the same since.

In the first match without their talisman, Real were humbled 5-1 at the Nou Camp – and that was without Messi playing for the Catalans. While the result was emphatic and enough to see Julen Lopetegui sacked, it was still thrilling. But only last season did we see a goalless draw – the first since 2002 – and it was hardly a feast for the eyes.

A new era

After being heavily criticised for having an aging squad, Barcelona have had to re-build and over the last few years, critical players have left. The likes of Xavi, Dani Alves and Andrés Iniesta, with Sergio Busquets and Gerard Piqué surely on their way out soon.

Another area in which they’ve been criticised is their academy, La Masia. Famed for bringing through a number of world-class players, Barcelona have had to rely on investing in big-money imports – such as Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho to fill the void.

It’s problem that will soon catch up Real, with Luka Modrić and the aforementioned Ramos, reaching the autumn of their careers. At 32 years of age, Marcelo and Toni Kroos aren’t getting any younger, either. It will be interesting to see how Los Blancos fare when wholesale changes are being made, and whether or not they can hold their advantage over their rivals when it comes to challenging, not only for bragging rights, but for the title.

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