Ranking the best Clasicos of the 21st century: From Lionel Messi's hat-tricks to Gareth Bale's stunning Copa del Rey winner
With so many talented players and so many gifted coaches, clashes between Real Madrid and Barcelona are always a must-watch. Factor in the heated rivalry, and it's no wonder El Clasico is regarded as one of, if not the best derby in football.
Some of the names to have graced the game since the turn of the century are are legendary: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta... And that's just the beginning.
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The two teams meet again on Wednesday in a game that could well yield another classic.
But until then, GOAL takes a look at some of the most memorable games the iconic rivalry has yielded in the 21st century...
#10 Cristiano heads Madrid to Copa glory
Real Madrid 1-0 Barcelona (April 20, 2011)
It was all decided by one of those Ronaldo leaps.
There was nothing to separate Barca and Madrid in the 2011 Copa del Rey final after 90 minutes. Pepe cracked a header off the post and Pedro had a goal ruled out for offside, but neither side could break the deadlock.
Ronaldo, though, had his moment in extra-time, rising above two Barca defenders to power a header back across goal.
This was a massive win for Jose Mourinho. 'The Special One' had struggled against Barca in the first few Clasicos of his tenure, highlighted by the infamous 5-0 thumping a year previously. This one, and that goal, was a massive turning point.
#9 Ronaldo's late winner
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid (April 3, 2016)
When it came to coming up clutch late in games, Ronaldo was, and still is, something else.
This goal in 2016 was one of his signature Clasico moments, an 85th-minute winner to stun Barca at Camp Nou.
It was a particularly spicy derby, with four yellow cards dished out inside the first 29 minutes. Madrid were excellent defensively on the day, only allowing three shots on target while holding Messi scoreless for his fifth straight Clasico.
And at the other end, they were deadly on the break. Barca may have taken the lead through a Gerard Pique header, but Madrid fought their way back into the game, and Karim Benzema grabbed the equaliser with an acrobatic volley.
Madrid had a goal ruled out & missed further chances, leaving many believing the game would end in a draw. Ronaldo, though, had other ideas.
The Portuguese scored a fine goal, bringing a cross down with his chest before feeding the ball through the goalkeeper's legs to win it. His strike took him to 16 Clasico goals, then-second on the all-time list.
#8 Galacticos take over
Real Madrid 4-2 Barcelona (April 10, 2005)
Was this the height of the Galactico era at Real Madrid?
Some of the names on this teamsheet make for frightening reading, as Madrid boasted a front five of David Beckham, Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo and Michael Owen. That Roberto Carlos guy at left-back wasn't bad, either.
Barcelona were, in fairness, quite the side, too, complete with Ronaldinho, Xavi and Iniesta.
But they were blown away at Santiago Bernabeu. Zidane scored the opener within seven minutes before Ronaldo doubled Real's advantage after 20.
And although Samuel Eto'o pulled one back with a lovely run and poked finish, the visitors never really found a foothold.
Madrid led 3-1 at half time, and ran out 4-2 winners to complete one of the great Clasico batterings.
#7 Ronaldinho brings the Bernabeu to its feet
Real Madrid 0-3 Barcelona (November 19, 2005)
Is this the best individual Clasico showing of the 21st century? Messi certainly has a claim for a number of superb performances, but Ronaldinho's irresistible individual brilliance in 2005 might just have been the most captivating.
The Brazilian bullied a 20-year-old Ramos to the tune of two goals - including one legendary run and finish - and earned a standing ovation from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd for his troubles.
Appropriately, Ronaldinho's magical night came in the same week in which he was handed the European Footballer of the Year award, yet he wasn't the only superstar to shine for Barca that night.
A young Messi delivered a standout showing of his own, running rings around Roberto Carlos in a preview of Clasicos to come.
This one wasn't much of a contest, but it was certainly one of the best Clasico performances of recent times.
- Getty Images
#6 Bale wins the Copa del Rey
Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona (April 16, 2014)
No Cristiano, no problem.
It seemed like a prerequisite during the Ronaldo-Messi years to have both stars on the pitch during the Clasico. But with Ronaldo out when the teams faced off in the Copa del Rey final, Gareth Bale took centre stage.
Most remember this contest for the Welshman's surging run and smart finish to win it, but it was a gripping game throughout. Bale and Angel Di Maria were deadly on the counter, and linked up to give Madrid the lead after 20 minutes.
Barcelona, complete with Messi, Neymar and Cesc Fabregas in a fluid attacking three, found a rhythm, and Marc Bartra leveled things with a sensational header in the second half, before Bale burned him in the 85th minute to score one of the great Clasico goals.
This Gareth Bale El Clasico goal is iconic 😤 pic.twitter.com/MB63zGBL2V— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 15, 2022
Add the constant bickering between Neymar and Pepe, and it was a neutral's dream.
#5 A Tiki-Taka masterclass
Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid (October 29, 2010)
Jose Mourinho took his Madrid side to Camp Nou needing a win. Instead, he was on the wrong end of one of the most lopsided results in Clasico history.
This was a seminal showing for Pep Guardiola's Barca; the contest where tiki-taka was in its purest form.
It was all here: Messi as a false nine, Xavi and Iniesta making runs into the Madrid box, and the Blaugrana stroking the ball around all evening.
Xavi scored in the 10th minute, Pedro made it two inside 18, and Barca never really slowed down from there. Ronaldo had a few tricks in his bag, but was largely controlled by a composed Carles Puyol. In the end, Madrid were left chasing shadows by a rampant Barca side.
And at the end of it all, Ramos was sent off. Vintage.
- Getty Images
#4 Barca seal the title in style
Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona (May 2, 2009)
Guardiola's first season at the helm for Barcelona went about as well as possible. The now-legendary manager wrapped up a historic treble and ran away with La Liga by a nine-point margin over Madrid.
This contest, in early May, was labelled a title-decider. Barca hadn't lost in eight weeks, while the Blancos were on a five-month undefeated run. The Blaugrana had a four-point lead at the top of the table, and a win at the Bernabeu would certainly wrap things up.
Barcelona didn't just win, though; they absolutely battered their hosts.
Madrid took the lead through Gonzalo Higuain after 14 minutes, but that was pretty much their only moment of joy all evening.
Within six minutes of the opening goal they were behind, and the Blaugrana then exploded in the second half, as Thierry Henry and Messi finished with two goals apiece to complete a famous 6-2 win.
- Getty Images
#3 Messi hat-trick wins seven-goal thriller
Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona (March 23, 2014)
Clasicos have produced some remarkable goals over the years, but they're seldom this high-scoring.
Barca's 4-3 win at the Bernabeu was, though, cooking from the very start, as Iniesta got the visitors on the board after just seven minutes.
Benzema, though, scored twice within 90 seconds to turn the game on its head, only for Messi to respond and knot the game up at 2-2 at half-time.
A Ronaldo penalty made it 3-2 shortly after the break, but Barca fought back yet again.
Ramos was sent off for clipping Neymar's heels as he ran through on goal, which allowed Messi to equalise from the penalty spot, before Messi buried a second penalty in the 88th minute to completing a dream hat-trick.
#2 Messi's arrival as a superstar
Barcelona 3-3 Real Madrid (March 10, 2007)
Messi wasn't exactly an unknown quantity ahead of El Clasico in 2007. The Argentine winger had already established himself in the Barca side, and had the trust of manager Frank Rijkaard.
This game, though, was when those outside of Spain began to sit up and take notice of his supreme talent.
Messi scored twice inside the first 30 minutes, curling one into the far corner before smashing his second home from close range.
However, after Oleguer Presas was sent off just before half-time and Ramos headed Madrid into a 3-2 lead with 17 minutes left, it looked like Barcelona were facing a Clasico defeat.
Then came Messi's first big moment in a Barca shirt. He took on two Madrid defenders, put Ramos on the floor with a burst of pace, and smashed the ball home to bag a 91st-minute equaliser.
📖 #OnThisDay in Barça history: Leo #Messi's first ever hat-trick came against Real Madrid on 10 March, 2007. pic.twitter.com/R84f5DYDuu— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 10, 2017
Madrid had the last laugh, winning La Liga by virtue of having a better head-to-head record. These days, though, most remember the game as Messi's Clasico coming-out party.
#1 Messi rocks the Bernabeu
Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona (April 23, 2017)
Here was perhaps the last great Clasico of the Messi-Ronaldo era. Both stars were in the midst of immense seasons, and with Barca needed a win to pull level with Madrid atop La Liga. Real, meanwhile, could have effectively buried their arch rival's title hopes.
In truth, they really should have. Los Blancos battered Barca for 20 minutes, with Ronaldo having an early penalty shout waved away before they eventually took the lead through Casemiro.
From there, though, Messi took over.
His first goal was remarkable, the Argentine weaving through the Madrid defence to equalise. Then, after both sides scored again to make it 2-2 and Ramos received his almost-customary red card, the Argentine's big moment arrived.
Messi arrowed an injury-time shot into the bottom corner before lifting his shirt into the sky to show the Madrid faithful who was boss.
✅ A dramatic late winner.— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) April 23, 2021
✅ An iconic celebration. #OnThisDay in 2017, Messi was decisive in #ElClasico at the Santiago Bernabeu! 💙🌟❤️#LaLigaSantander pic.twitter.com/b6UFmC7pGt
An iconic Messi goal - his 500th in a Barca shirt - received one of his most iconic celebrations.