In 300 yards, take the next exit down Memory Lane…
Lionel Messi’s fractured arm means today’s meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid will be the first in 11 years not to feature either the Argentine No10 or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Rather fittingly, the Clasico of December 2007 proved to be a defining moment in the two great clubs’ unparalleled rivalry.
With Messi injured, Barcelona head coach Frank Rijkaard called upon proven performers Ronaldinho and Deco to fill the void left by the magical 20-year-old.
Bernd Schuster opted to keep faith in Julio Baptista, rather than replacing the Brazilian with the returning Guti, a decision which was entirely justified…
Going in to the game, all the pressure was on Barca.
Real held a four-point lead over their rivals in the league having won 12 of their 16 games, compared to Barca’s nine.
Whispers of Rijkaard’s uncertain future circulated Catalonia.
It is often the case that a season is defined by El Clasico — the sheer gravity of the fixture shapes the entire campaign and can make or break an individual’s reputation.
This was no different.
We’ll spare you the drawn-out drama.
Real won 1-0 courtesy of a Julio Baptista goal — an excellent one at that.
Check out the devastatingly effective one-two…
Arsenal fans would have appreciated such finishing during Baptista’s loan spell in north London the previous season.
As Barca chased the game, Real continued to threaten on the break.
A knackered Deco was removed on the hour — Rijkaard’s decision to start the Portuguese playmaker would be heavily criticised during the postmortem.
With ten minutes left, Thierry Henry was sent out to warm up.
But when the board went up, it did no display the prolific Frenchman’s number.
Instead, 17-year-old Bojan was thrown on, leaving Henry with nothing to do but to resume his position on the bench.
In fairness, the young Spaniard caused the visiting defence a few issues in the game’s dying moments, but Los Blancos hung on to take the three points and move seven clear of their long-time rivals.
The scoreline was tight but the nature of Barcelona’s performance caused concern.
“We should have finished them off sooner,” said Schuster, rubbing salt in the wounds after the game.
“I would not call it easy but it was certainly easier than I expected.
“The fact that Barcelona didn’t score at home says it all.”
Real Madrid went on to win the league comfortably.
Barca finished ten points behind second-placed Villarreal having dropped points in 19 games over the course of the season.
Rijkaard was sacked in May and Pep Guardiola was named as his replacement.
Barca won the treble the very next season with many immediately heralding them as one of the greatest teams ever.
While there were several contributing factors to the defining transition in Barcelona’s history, it can certainly be traced back to defeat in El Clasico sans Messi in 2007.
There’s a reason they call it the biggest game in the world — it produces shock waves like no other.
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