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Jonathan Cordingley 9th Apr 2010 - 11:42

Unmissable-El Gran Clasico, Real Madrid vs Barcelona

El Derby, the derby of derbies, it has many names and is of big significance within Spanish society. Finally, what we've all been waiting for, it's here, it's....Real Madrid  vs Barcelona.

For anyone new to Spanish football, rather than give you a lengthy history lesson, let's just say that Real means Royal and Royal meant Francisco Franco. Franco was dictator of Spain between 1939 and 1975 and a staunch Real Madrid fan. Amongst many other things, the fascist leader banned the Catalan language used by the people of Barcelona.

Nowadays things are different, but the history will never go away and the tension will always be present. Just ask Louis Figo or former Real manager Bernd Schuster, both of whom crossed the divide during their playing days. Any long term followers of La Liga will never forget the image of the pig's head that somehow made its way into the Nou Camp to be thrown at Louis Figo, who just a year or two earlier was the darling of the Barca fans.

There are no former heroes returning to the Bernabeu today, but FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi will garner as much attention as anyone would and, much like Ronaldinho a few years ago, could receive a round of applause at the end of the game should he produce another performance for the ages.

A performance for the ages was indeed what we saw from Messi in the Champions League on Tuesday night and, given how often he's been on a different level to any other player this season, we can only dream of what's to come for a twenty-two year old who's already being entered into best player ever discussions.

Such talk is premature, and besides, different generations are impossible to accurately compare with the entrants and arguments generally borne of personnel preference. What I can say for sure is that as someone born at the end of the 1970's, I have not seen a player this good since Maradona.

Speaking of Diego, he really needs to build his team around Messi if Argentina are to once again win a World Cup under his leadership.

Messi will have games where he doesn't play to his superhuman level, and today could be one of them. Nevertheless, I'm excited and expect punters to pick their poison from the range of Messi bets on offer; 7/2 first scorer, 4/5 anytime, 7/2 to score 2 or more and 16/1 to net another hat-trick.

Former FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo (4/1 to score first, evens anytime, 13/2 to score 2 or more and 25/1 for a hat-trick) has impressed in his first year in Spain but, partly due to his vanity and selfishness, plays for a Real Madrid side that often lack the most vital component of effective possession football, team play.

Team play is something Barcelona excel at, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic has debatably hindered it as much as he has helped it since arriving from Intenazionale in a deal that sent the quicker paced Eto'o in the other direction.

However, a fit, confident Zlatan is undoubtedly a better option than Bojan (7/1 to score first, 2/1 anytime) and the in-form Swede could make the difference today. Should he start, he is priced at 6/1 to score first or 7/4 to score at anytime.

Key in possibly redressing the balance, Gonzalo Higuain (9/2 to score first, 6/5 anytime) has been outstanding this season and, like Messi, should prove to be a player Maradona relies upon in South Africa. I'm going to have a very, very small punt on Higuain to score first and the game to end in a 2-2 draw (50/1).

Barcelona won the reverse fixture 1-0 (the repeat is 10/1) and given that head to head records count above goal difference in Spain, a draw today is enough to put Barca back at the top of the La Liga standings.

Los Blancos direct play will present Barcelona (13/8) with an altogether different tactical proposition to what they faced on Tuesday night, and betting favourites Real Madrid (11/8) also have the advantage a few days extra rest.

My instinct and assessment lead me to think that this game will end in a draw (12/5) but picking that outcome will not spoil my enjoyment of this fixture, whatever happens.


Enjoy the action and don't forget that you can bet In-Play with William Hill Online.



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