Hazard, Griezmann, De Jong, Vinicius: What's in store for the next era of El Clásico?

Zinedine Zidane manager / head coach of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Bayern Muenchen at the Bernabeu on May 1, 2018 in Madrid, Spain.  (April 30, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

Zinedine Zidane manager / head coach of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Bayern Muenchen at the Bernabeu on May 1, 2018 in Madrid, Spain.

(April 30, 2018 - Source: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)

La Liga will soon kick-off for the 2019/2020 season. The Spanish League games are sure not to disappoint in delivering edge-of-the-seat kind of football none so more than El Clasico. The highly anticipated El Clasico is a tale of two rival cities, a rivalry that every player that walks into the Camp Nou and Estadio Bernabeu inherits. El Clasico is a local rivalry that has grabbed the attention of millions becoming a staple for football fans across the globe.

The end of an El Clasico era?

The greatest who've ever played the game, played in El Clasico. The list includes the great Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Carles Puyol, and current Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane himself. Throughout the years that El Clasico has excited fans all over the globe, Barcelona and Real Madrid have over the years re-ignited this regional rivalry. Head to head, each side has inflicted some punitive scorelines on the other. While occasionally the arch-rivals have settled for an unsatisfactory draw.  In 242 El Clasico games, Los Blancos have won 95 games while Barcelona have won 96. These stats represent how close the competition is between the clubs.

The Belgian often likened to Messi, is expected to play at that level, provide much needed goals and instill some fear in opponents. The 28-year old given a chance could pose some rivalry to Lionel in the upcoming season. Hazard, not one to shy away from a challenge on the pitch, if in peak fitness we can expect some reliably solid performances from the magician. 
— Margaret Mandeya, FirstTouch Africa
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona delivers a speech prior to the Joan Gamper trophy friendly match at Nou Camp on August 04, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Aug. 3, 2019 - Source: Getty Images Europe)

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona delivers a speech prior to the Joan Gamper trophy friendly match at Nou Camp on August 04, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.

(Aug. 3, 2019 - Source: Getty Images Europe)

In 2018, the era of the Christiano/Messi El Classico rivalry sadly ended while the world was still at odds deciding who between the two football greats was the best. Last season, Barcelona was undoubtedly the stronger side, winning more El Clasico match-ups while embattled Real Madrid failed to deliver football at the standard of one of the biggest teams on the globe. With a thoroughly underwhelming season for Real Madrid behind them, having registered their worst finish in the last 20 years, nineteen points behind Barcelona, the opportunity to write new history cannot come quick enough.

 Barcelona has been thriving, on the other hand. Lionel Messi continues to be the lynchpin for Barcelona. The greatest of all time has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. In the last decade, Barcelona's success has been the work of the greatest player ever to play an El Clasico, Messi. Messi is the most successful player in the match-up with 26 goals and two hat tricks. The 32-year old ran riot in the 2018/19 El Clasicos after Christiano packed for Juventus, leaving a hugely noticeable gap.

 As Gareth Bale and company failed to keep performing consistently coupled with multiple managerial changes, the challenges at the Santiago Bernabeu mounted. Zidane has even made it clear that he will not be working with Bale this season, sealing Bale’s fate at the Santiago Bernabeu. Reports indicate the pair have not spoken since May. The Welshman who has been struggling with injuries over the years was not able to deliver goals for Los Blancos despite being touted to carry the team after the Christiano era.  Karim Benzema ended the season as the top goal scorer whose personal performances managed to save face for Real Madrid over the previous season. Bale who became a regular feature in El Clasico in recent memory could soon leave Madrid. Isco, another veteran of the game is rumoured to be attracting interesting from the English Premiership and Pep Guardiola's Man City.

THE FACES OF THE NEW ERA

False start Bale

The summer signings from both clubs have been impressive, with Real Madrid recruiting the quick feet and explosive attacking intent of Eden Hazard for a sweet €100 million. The Belgian’s signing became the most expensive for the club, only behind Gareth Bale transfer from Spurs. Hazard is effectively next in line to try and fill the astronomical gap left by Christiano Ronaldo who moved his talents to Juventus before the start of the 2018/2019 season. The former Chelsea talisman is hoping to have as significant an impact on the Madrid attack as Christiano Ronaldo during his nine years at the club—34 La Liga hat tricks and 18 El Classico goals for the Portuguese maestro. The Belgian often likened to Messi, is expected to play at that level, provide much needed goals and instill some fear in opponents. The 28-year old given a chance could pose some rivalry to Lionel in the upcoming season. Hazard, not one to shy away from a challenge on the pitch, if in peak fitness we can expect some reliably solid performances from the Belgian magician. 

Luka Jovic, Benzema’s heir apparent?

Luka Jovic is the unicorn of the summer signings for Los Blancos. The 21-year-old has been at Eintracht Frankfurt where he was labelled an all-rounded powerhouse striker. He's been at the helm of Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring 27 goals last season. The youngster is the player enlisted to Los Blancos for around €60 million on a six-year contract. The move for Jovic attests Zidane's strategy to rebuild a strong attack, and the signing is one of the most impressive of the summer. Jovic is the young player to watch this season along with French defender Mendy who joined Real Madrid from Lyon.

Frenkie de Jong of Barcelona is presented with the man of the match award after the Joan Gamper Trophy pre-season friendly match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal at Nou Camp on August 04, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Aug. 3, 2019 - Source: Getty Images Europe)

Frenkie de Jong of Barcelona is presented with the man of the match award after the Joan Gamper Trophy pre-season friendly match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal at Nou Camp on August 04, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.

(Aug. 3, 2019 - Source: Getty Images Europe)

Griezzy the world champion

Barcelona made their major signing of the summer in Antoine Griezmann. The 2018 world cup winner made his move to Barcelona for a massive €120 million. The Frenchman who plays a similar center forward position as Messi is adamant that his role is not to replace La Pulga. The former Atletico talisman, who rose to become one of the club's top scorers of all time will likely play a supporting role for Messi. With Neymar signing uncertain and unlikely for that matter, Griezmann will form part of the attacking cavalry that Barcelona has needed to strengthen their squad for the season. The pressure on Griezmann as the biggest transfer payout for Barcelona this summer pales in comparison to the expectation that Hazard's move will restore glory to Santiago Bernabeu. The Frenchman’s powerful strike is simply a notable addition to the team at Camp Nou.

Frenkie & Junior, the future

The signing of Frenkie de Jong, another young player who made rounds in Europe for his performances at Ajax adds another face to new El Clasico era. The same Ajax who shocked the world when they made it to the semi-finals of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League season. The 22-year Dutch midfielder is a versatile player able to thrive at both the attacking and defensive midfield positions. Another much talked about Barca signing is defender Junior Firpo from Real Betis for €18 million. The defender is an ideal candidate to bolster the left-back position by proving adequate cover for Jordi Alba and utlimately strengthen the entire Barcelona defence.

CAN ZIDANE RESCUE THE STRUGGLING LOS BLANCOS, JUST IN TIME?

Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid CF controls the ball during the Santiago Bernabeu Trophy between Real Madrid CF and AC Milan at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on August 11, 2018 in Madrid, Spain.  (Aug. 10, 2018 - Source: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images Europe)

Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid CF controls the ball during the Santiago Bernabeu Trophy between Real Madrid CF and AC Milan at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on August 11, 2018 in Madrid, Spain.

(Aug. 10, 2018 - Source: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images Europe)

Having played El Clasico for Real, Zizzou has also coached Madrid to three El Clasico wins in this first tenure as Los Blancos manager and now he is back for a second stint. The pressure on the Balon d’Or winner is mounting as Real look to re-emerge as Spain's top club over their arch-rivals. Since his return, Zidane is actually yet to make an impact on the team's performances. After these summer signings, it's clear that the French manager is orchestrating and building a strong attack. The two-time Champions League winner has to inject massive life into the ailing Real Madrid side before the start of the new season. After being given more control over the players that will be coming to Santiago Bernabeu, Zidane has been hands-on. On the radar for the manager is Paul Pogba, who could bring star power to the El Clasico and another face to the new era if the move materialises.

SPANISH TITLE RACE

The Spanish title race has many times been decided on the El Clasico matchup. Barcelona were consistent last season and look the healthiest going into the 2019/2020 La Liga season. Real Madrid needs to round up and do some housekeeping after the controversies between Zidane and Bale. After fundamentally weakening Atletico Madrid with the departure of Griezmann, Barcelona look like the favorites coming into the new season. The question will be if Zidane can pull the morale of the team together and reclaim their position of Spanish Champions over their El Clasico foes. Ernesto Valverde is in a more comfortable position as his squad has only grown from strength to strength even after comfortably clinching a second successive La Liga title. The Spanish manager however needs to gain some more domestic cups titles including the Copa del Rey and most especially the UCL, which may divide their attention more than is needed.

CONCLUSION

The El Clasico has a history stretching back to the beginning of the 20th century and each decade brings a new era and star players who carry the spirit of rivalry and ignite the passion all over again. The game is about the pride of a region and to settle which city is truly the home of football in Spain. A period of transition for both sides and while Real Madrid's transformation has been bumpy the prospects for an improved outfit are real. Do you think that Madrid can top Barcelona this coming season? Who will be victorious when the two meet?