Ronaldo’s gone and Messi is out… but El Clasico is still a game you cannot miss

You have to turn back time 11 years to find the last Clasico which featured neither Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Back to when Ronaldinho, Deco and Yaya Toure were running the show for Barcelona, Robinho, Raul and Ruud Van Nistelrooy led the line for Real Madrid and Sergio Ramos was still a right-back.

It was December 23, 2007, and Julio Baptista’s Christmas cracker of a strike found the top corner to sink Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona, Madrid triumphing by the solitary goal.

Since then the game has been dominated by Barcelona’s Messi and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo.

However the Portuguese left for Juventus in July after nine years at the Santiago Bernabeu and Messi fractured a bone in his right arm last weekend against Sevilla, so neither can appear at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Lionel Messi will watch from the stands again on Sunday (Image: Action Plus via Getty Images)
Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in the summer (Image: SIPA USA/PA Images)

World football’s biggest game will be missing the sport’s two biggest stars.

And their ‘replacements’ might not be much help either. Messi and Ronaldo’s deputies were supposed to be Neymar and Gareth Bale.

The Brazilian left Barcelona to get out Messi’s shadow and can be found sulking in Paris, while Bale’s constant injuries have stopped him from reaching his peak at Madrid.

Messi broke his arm last weekend (Image: X01398)

Real Madrid have struggled for goals, with Marcelo’s drive in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Levante the first they had scored in a club record eight hours of football without finding the net.

Such a dire run of form, five games without a win, ended during a shaky 2-1 victory over Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday, has left coach Julen Lopetegui on the brink of the sack with the team seventh in La Liga after nine games.

Real Madrid have not been the same without Cristiano Ronaldo (Image: Getty Images)
Neymar was meant to be Lionel Messi’s replacement but moved to PSG (Image: Getty Images)

And while Barcelona are currently top of the table, that fact does not reflect the scrutiny the Catalans have come under after a string of poor performances.

They have failed to keep a clean sheet in six games across all competitions and what was a rock-solid defence last season is being regularly cut open by opposition attackers like hot knives through butter.

A glance at the league table sums up the state of affairs in Spain. Madrid are just four points clear of a woeful Valencia that have managed one win all season long. And Barca lead Madrid by the same distance.

Messi’s three week absence could hurt a Barcelona side which has depended on the Argentine star more than any other during his time at the club.

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