- Barcelona and Real Madrid played out goalless draw when they met in December
- There’s nostalgia for El Clasicos that were lit-up by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo
- Fans hope Vinicius Junior and Ansu Fati get given a license to thrill on Sunday
- Both starlets possess the talent to roll back the clock and ‘stop the world’ again
It used to be the greatest show on earth – ‘the game that stopped the world,’ in the words of Jose Mourinho.
El Clasico has lost some of its sparkle in recent times. Barcelona and Real Madridplayed out a goalless draw when they met in the league in December and last season at the Bernabeu, Ivan Rakitic’s goal settled a scrappy 1-0 affair.
There’s nostalgia for the Clasicos that were lit-up by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves.
But each side does, however, have a player going into Sunday’s showdown, who is young enough to barely remember the fixture’s greatest era, and yet possesses all the talent to roll back the clock and ‘stop the world’ again.
The global audience of up to 650 million viewers in 180 countries will be hoping that 19-year-old Vinicius Junior and 17-year-old Ansu Fati get given a license to thrill on Sunday, bringing the famous old fixture to life.
Vinicius still suffers from that frustrating fluster in front of goal as he did in the first half against Manchester City on Wednesday. But his pace, skill and positivity have made him a nightmare for defenders ever since he was first unleashed on LaLiga last season, and his decision making has improved drastically.
The 19-year-old only made his Clasico debut last season but he marked it with an assist after six minutes crossing from the left for Karim Benzema to set-up Lucas Vazquez to score.
The Brazilian played without fear at the Nou Camp and he was outstanding in the second leg too although it was his finishing that cost Madrid their place in the cup final.
He had five chances – many of them self-creations, and four of them coming before the break – but he couldn’t convert and when Luis Suarez gave a second half finishing master-class, Barca won 3-0.
The teenager will have learned from those first Clasico outings. Sunday could be his day.
For Barcelona their teenage flier is only 17 and made his Clasico debut in December coming on for the last seven minutes replacing Antoine Griezmann.
If Vinicius is a sure starter, then Fati looks like a certainty for the bench. But that does not mean he will not play a big part in the game.
Barcelona coach Quique Setien had a long confab with Pep Guardiola on Wednesday night into Thursday morning at Madrid’s Eurostars Hotel after Manchester City’s win.
Setien had watched the game from the main stand and then sought out Guardiola’s opinion on the Madrid he had faced. The two men will have touched on the way Madrid folded late in the game and the damage Raheem Sterling was able to do as a second-half substitute. That could be Fati’s role this time.
Setien has developed a conservative streak in recent weeks and held back the kid who has already scored in every competition and has four goals in seven starts in LaLiga.
But the impressive Martin Braithwaite has jumped ahead of Fati in the queue as a potential starter for Sunday and that could mean Fati gets minutes from the bench. His ability to run in behind teams and finish well could be decisive.
The Clasico doesn’t need saving – it remains one of the biggest games in world football. But there is a longing for the time when Cristiano Ronaldo would be battling with Gerard Pique at one end and Lionel Messi would be terrorising Real Madrid at the other with Alves, Xavi, Iniesta, and later Neymar and Suarez his co-conspirators.
Sunday’s game means so much with just two points between the teams. Zinedine Zidane is reeling from two defeats in a week and Setien no doubt has his late-night tactics talk with Guardiola still at the forefront of his mind. It could be another game of chess on Sunday, cagey and cautious.
But the fixture’s huge global audience will hope for more. And if the fantasy football is to come to the fore once more, then the raw talents of Vinicius and Fati will have a huge part to play.