Saturday evening sees eternal foes Barcelona and Real Madrid meet at Camp Nou in the 232nd competitive edition of el clásico. Although the league title has been all but won by the Catalans, this game will be of added significance for Barcelona as it is their first since the death of the legendary figure of Johan Cruyff.
The Dutchman has been rightly lauded as one of the most significant individuals in the sport’s history since his passing with some going as far as describing him as the ‘inventor of modern football’. He is also the man that perhaps more than any other figure helped shape the course of world football’s greatest rivalry.
During 5 years as a Barcelona player and 8 years as a manager, he enjoyed some fine moments against Los Blancos and contributed to a gradual levelling of the playing field and certainly laid the foundations for the current period of dominance Barça are enjoying.
Here are 6 of Barcelona’s finest wins and most significant clashes with Real during the Cruyff years:
Real Madrid 0-5 Barcelona
17th February 1974, La Liga
Arguably the most significant of all the previous 232 meetings between the clubs. One night in February 1974, Johan Cruyff inspired Barcelona to perhaps their greatest ever victory. He scored one thanks to a fine jinking run and finish and created a further two as Barça humiliated their bitter rivals in their own backyard at a time of heightened tensions between the two clubs.
Club de Futbol Barcelona, as it was then, had long been the symbol of the Catalonia during the repressive atmosphere of Franco-era Spain in which Barcelona as a city and a football club had lived in Madrid’s shadow. They had been longing for a hero and that night at the Bernabeu, a Dutchman became a true Catalan icon and the dominant win helped Barcelona push on to their first league title in 14 years in Cruyff’s first season at the club.
Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid
28th December 1975, La Liga
Less than two years passed between Barcelona’s thumping 5-0 win at the Bernabeu and Real Madrid’s trip to Camp Nou in December 1975 but plenty had changed in the mean-time both on and off the pitch. Real Madrid had recovered well to win the following season’s league title but CF Barcelona was now FC Barcelona and the club and entire Catalan region was regaining its identity following the transition to democracy and death of Franco only a month before this fixture.
Cruyff wasn’t a scorer on this occasion but he set up compatriot Johan Neeskens for Barça’s opening goal after just 3 minutes. Real Madrid great Pirri levelled the scores on the 64th minute but a late volley from Carles Rexach, who would go on to be Cruyff’s trusty assistant, scuffed off the turf and beat the despairing Real Madrid keeper to spark jubilation around the stadium. Although Los Blancos would again ultimately win the title, there could be little doubt that Barça were a club on the up and they’ve remained a serious thorn in Real Madrid’s side almost ever since.
Barcelona 3-1 Real Madrid
19th September 1976, La Liga
Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Real Madrid in September 1976 was their 3rd consecutive victory over their great rivals in La Liga, a feat they’d only ever managed once previously. Cruyff was again a pivotal figure, scoring for Barcelona just a minute after Pirri had equalised for the visitors to set up a 3-1 home victory.
The Catalans finished 11 points clear of Real Madrid that season but were pipped by 1 point to the league title by Atletico Madrid.They won the following season’s Copa del Rey in what was Cruyff’s final campaign as a Barça player and although he won only 2 trophies during his 5 seasons at Camp Nou, he left a legend and is still regarded as one of their greatest ever players but more than that he was the symbol of the reawakening of the club and his adopted region at a time of great change in Spain.
Barcelona 2-0 Real Madrid
5th April 1990, Copa del Rey Final
From the moment he left in 1978, it seemed certain that Cruyff would one day return as manager. Even as a very young player he would spend hours analysing the tactical side of the game and was always destined for coaching. After a decade away he was appointed Barcelona boss in the summer of 1988 and once again had to set about trying to close the gap on Los Blancos who had finished a massive 23 points clear of Barcelona in the previous campaign (the equivalent of 36 points had ‘3 points for a win’ been employed at the time).
Cruyff’s side recovered to a 2nd place finish in La Liga and European Cup Winners’ Cup success in his first season in charge but an excellent Real Madrid side spearheaded by the clinical Hugo Sanchez were still the dominant force as the 1989-90 campaign drew to a close and were strong favourites going into the clásico Copa del Rey Final.
However aided by a Fernando Hierro sending off, Cruyff would claim his first domestic silverware as manager of the club and in doing so deny Real Madrid a domestic double. Second Half goals from Guillermo Amor and Julio Salinas sealed the victory and although both could be largely attributed to defensive or goalkeeping errors rather than Barça brilliance, it gave the side a base from which to build from and relieved some of the pressure on the Dutch boss after a disappointing league campaign.
Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid
19th January 1991, La Liga
El clasico is always a massive occasion no matter what is riding on it but every now and then one comes along one that both sides realise the extra magnitude of. The two clubs met in week 19 of the 1990-91 season with Real Madrid winners of La Liga in all of the previous 5 seasons, 8 points behind Barcelona in the standings.
Los Blancos were desperate for a win to get back into the title race but Barça were keen to cement the notion that a real shift in power was taking place. Michael Laudrup acrobatically volleyed Barça in front and despite a Butragueño leveller, the Catalans would claim the win and establish a 10 point lead at the midway mark thanks to a needless own goal from Real’s Serbian defender Predrag Spasic.
The passage to what was only Barcelona’s 3rd title in the past 30 years was not a smooth one though not least for Cruyff who would miss 5 games following a double heart bypass the following month. However by the time the sides met at the Bernabeu on the final day, Barcelona had already successfully claimed the crown and ended Real Madrid’s 5 year stranglehold on La Liga.
Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid
8th January 1994, La Liga
By 1994 Cruyff had established Barcelona’s famous dream team and for the first time since the 1950’s the Catalans were enjoying a prolonged period of dominance over their great foes. Barça had won the 1992 European Cup to become European Champions for the first time and the exciting, attacking style of play that Cruyff had been trying to perfect during his early years at the club was now in full devastating force.
One of their most destructive performances came when Real visited Camp Nou in January 1994 but were sent to crushing defeat with a wonderful solo effort from Romario, who bagged the match-ball, and a trademark thunderous free-kick from Ronald Koeman the stand-out moments.
The Catalans would win the reverse fixture at the Bernabeu in the penultimate round of fixtures to set-up a dramatic last day in which they leapfrogged Deportivo la Coruna to win their 4th consecutive league title, a feat that no other Barcelona side has managed including Pep Guardiola’s all conquering team that certainly drew plenty of inspiration from Cruyff’s methods.