For many fans, El Clásico is not just the biggest match in the world; it’s a twice-a-year referendum on the modern state of soccer. Whenever Barcelona and Real Madrid face off in La Liga, questions regarding the power of money in soccer, the consolidation of star players, and the duopoly of the Spanish soccer league arise alongside concerns about form and tactics. It’s safe to say that the winner of each edition of El Clásico imposes its theoretical will on the sport…at least until the next matchup.
Sunday’s Clásico is no different, for either side. Entering round 33 of La Liga, Barcelona is 3 points behind Real Madrid but with one more game played. The blaugrana come hobbling into the Estadio Bernabeu after disappointing results domestically and an era-defining dismantling by Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinals–the third quarterfinal exit for the Catalan giants in the last four years of the competition.
Manager Luis Enrique is already on his way out, having announced that he’ll be peacing out of the Camp Nou at season’s end. His departure might signal a paradigm shift for a club on the last gasps of a previous era; whatever worked as recently as 2015’s historic second treble has been repeatedly shown as insufficient this year, as a patchwork defense and an aging midfield fail to back up what is still the most exciting attack in the world on its best day. That attack won’t even be at 100% on Sunday, as Neymar is serving a multi-game ban for sarcastically clapping at a referee following a red card in Barcelona’s loss to Malaga earlier this month.
A win on Sunday could give Barcelona the push it needs to get back into the title race, and with a significantly easier closing schedule than their Madrid rivals, they would need only a slip here and some dropped points there to claim their third La Liga title in a row. A loss, or even a draw, and their only consolation for a turbulent season might be the Copa Del Rey.
For Real Madrid, the stakes are lower long-term, but in the immediate future, capitalizing on their rival’s misfortune could lead them to their first La Liga/Champions League double since 1958. To get there, they’ll have to power through a brutal closing stretch that has them facing not just Barcelona, but fourth-place Sevilla, perennial thorn Valencia, and Malaga on the road on the last match day of the year. That’s to say nothing of the Champions League, whose draw created a two-legged (Real) Madrid vs. (Atletico) Madrid semi-final that will surely wear on Los Blancos.
More than any year in recent memory, however, this Madrid side might just have what it takes to limp past the finish line, and it’s all due to their depth. Real sides of years past have always been top heavy, with its starters reading as Galacticos while their bench read more like a mid-table side. With their smart purchases in recent years–as well as some key call-ups from their academy–however, the backups include such names as James Rodriguez, Isco, the fast-rising Marco Asensio, Alvaro Morata, and Lucas Vazquez.
Despite doubts when he was appointed to the managership of such a massive club, French legend Zinedine Zidane has acquitted himself admirably at the helm of the Merengues. His style of managing seems to be less tactical and more focused on player management, which might not be a bad thing; aside from grumblings here and there about James’s lack of playing time, he’s keeping a 23-man side of the highest caliber in line as they hold course towards league and cup honors. That’s why Real has been able to withstand a glut of injuries (Gareth Bale is trying to hobble back into the lineup in time for Sunday’s Clásico) and an up-and-down season from its mercurial talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, to enter the final lap of the season at the top of the European soccer heap.
With all that mind, El Clásico should be a must-watch, as always, and we’ve put together a list of spots in cities across the United States where you can go to watch on Sunday, whether you bleed the blaugrana of Barcelona or the all-white of Real Madrid.