New faces add fresh twist to El Clásico showdown

With the world's biggest stars and two richest clubs on show, it is no surprise that when Barcelona and Real Madrid meet the world stops to take notice.

New faces add fresh twist to El Clásico showdown
Barça and Real fans are still waiting for this year's top signings, Neymar (L) and Gareth Bale (R) to prove they are worth what their clubs paid for them. Photo: Pierre Philippe Marcou/Josep Lago/AFP

In recent years though the fixture has become less of a treat with 17 meetings between the two in the past three seasons alone.

However, on the brink of their first clash this season on Saturday there is an excitement and freshness brought by the addition of new cast members to the drama that El Clasico almost never fails to deliver.

The protagonists remain the same. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated this fixture as they have practically all others since the Portuguese joined the four-time World Player of the Year in Spain four years ago.

Should Messi find the net at the Camp Nou on Saturday he would surpass Madrid legend and honorary president Alfredo di Stefano as the all-time leading scorer in meetings between the two.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, is soon catching up with Messi having scored seven times in the last six Clasicos in which he has started.

However, both sides have plumped their hopes on a second superstar to supplement the undoubted best two players in the world.

The manner in which Neymar and Gareth Bale arrived at Barca and Madrid respectively has so far marked their impact since arriving in Spain.

Barcelona wisely got their business done early with Neymar signed before last season had even finished.

The Brazilian then went on to shine for his country at the Confederations Cup and arrived in the Catalan capital for the new season full of confidence.

Indeed, Neymar has already helped lift some of the pressure on Messi with three goals and six assists in just nine starts.

Bale, by contrast, had to wait until transfer deadline day to be presented at the Santiago Bernabeu and has paid for his lack of a pre-season with a series of niggling muscle injuries that have hampered his participation so far.

The Welshman has played just 170 minutes across five appearances, starting and scoring just the once.

Despite a completely ineffective cameo appearance as a substitute in Real's 2-1 win over Juventus on Wednesday, Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti insisted that Bale is now ready to start a match following a thigh problem.

The Camp Nou match is also a big test for Ancelotti and Barca boss Gerardo Martino as they too face up to their first taste of the unique pressures a Clasico brings.

Ancelotti brings a far greater wealth of experience having managed in Italy, England and France, but it was Martino who has made the better start to his first job in European football as Barcelona currently lead Madrid by three points atop La Liga.

The departures of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho may have stolen some of the star dust away from the touchline, but the new men in charge have embarked upon an intriguing process of evolving the style of their sides.

Martino wants a more direct Barcelona, not so obsessed with tiki-taka football, whilst Ancelotti has tried quite the opposite in turning Madrid from a supreme counter-attacking outfit into a more possession based side.

Whilst both have enjoyed a relatively easy ride from press and fans alike in their first few months, the lack of criticism has been conditioned by good results.

Madrid's derby defeat to Atletico Madrid — the only game either has lost this season — was met with a barrage of questions over Real's late sale of Mesut Ozil in the transfer window, supposedly with Ancelotti's blessing.

Meanwhile, Martino has found out that even winning isn't always enough in Catalonia as his changes were criticised after Barca failed to have more possession than the opposition for the first time in five years against Rayo Vallecano last month, despite the fact Barca won the game 4-0.

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Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.