Santiago Bernabeu this Sunday afternoon will be a little noisier than usual. Fans beautifully dressed in their various team jerseys will march happily into the stadium and sing songs of victory. Almost no seat will be left unoccupied. The place will be packed to the rafters. Club paraphernalia and flags will flutter in the afternoon breeze.
As kick-off draws ever nearer, nerves will begin to jangle a little, stomachs will begin to tighten a little. Surely, tension will climb up a notch. From far and near, a great number will tune in to either pledge themselves to one of the two teams or to simply satisfy their curiosity. This is El Clasico. This is the greatest club game in the history of football, and you are welcome to it.
For FC Barcelona, the club and particularly its fanbase, the emotional frustration of mid-week Champions League football has diminished not a single, tiny bit. The dramatic 3-3 stalemate against Inter Milan this past Wednesday means qualification to the last-16 hangs by a thread. Which also reasonably means Europa is almost inevitable. Which also reasonably means a triumph over Real Madrid to improve morale in camp. And appease a downhearted fanbase is a big must.
Lewandowski should be ready
Based purely on the events in La Liga this term, truth-tellers anywhere in the world would concur with the simple fact that Robert Lewandowski remains Barça’s best bet for a Clasico win. After just eight league games, the Polish boasts of nine goals, three more than the next best scorer on the chart. In comparison, Lewandowski’s partners in crime – Dembele, Raphinha, Ansu Fati – have a combined total of five goals in La Liga.
Even at 34, Lewandowski continues to be a reliable source of goals. Against Inter Milan last Wednesday, he twice found the back of the net when Inzaghi’s men threatened to run away with all three points. His second of the night deep in injury time to send the Camp Nou crowd into a frenzy was testament to his greatness. When all hope had been lost, Robert Lewandowski showed up to save the day.
He was decisive at Mallorca some few weeks back when Barça narrowly won by one-nil. He was out of the world against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League when he bagged for himself a hattrick. In fact, for large portions of his Bayern career, Lewandowski’s goals did win them things; matches, titles, admiration and acclaim.
On his day, the Poland international is a total freak in front of goal. It is for this reason that over the years he has been vigorously compared to some of the world’s greatest number nines. Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero, Erling Haaland, and the like have all been pitted against the former Dortmund center-forward at some point in time.
Today, without an ounce of doubt, Lewandowski versus Benzema will capture the most attention. Many tip him to win big in the forthcoming Ballon d’ Or award show following an outstanding campaign last season. Karim Benzema has been slow to hit tip-top form this term partly due to injuries. As a result, the Frenchman only has three La Liga goals thus far. In contrast, Lewandowski has adapted to life in Barcelona with great haste and is firing on all cylinders. And in his first ever competitive El Clasico, he will be more than eager to do what he does best, scoring goals and being the difference.
For some Barca fans across the globe, arguably Lewandowski now is to Barcelona what Lionel Messi was for majority of the last seventeen years: a beacon of hope, a source of joy, a symbol of pride, a game changer. This Sunday afternoon will be no ordinary Sunday afternoon. Men and women and children alike will converge in living rooms, in pubs, in viewing centers, in places where the game would be televised, and enjoy the full spectacle, perhaps with bated breath, perhaps not. Robert Lewandowski might turn out to be the difference.