Barcelona v Real Madrid: Young guns waiting to usurp familiar cast of ageing Clasico stars

By Sports Desk December 18, 2019

When Barcelona hosted Real Madrid on November 29, 2009, the final Clasico of the first decade of the 21st century, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had won just a single Ballon d'Or between them.

The following month saw Messi land his first, yet even when considering the standards both were setting even then, few would have predicted the remarkable nature of their dominance over the following decade.

Ten years on, only one person – Luka Modric – has been able to interrupt their duopoly of the coveted individual award, with Messi edging out Virgil van Dijk earlier this month to win it for a record sixth time.

Ahead of the final Clasico of this decade on Wednesday, Barcelona's Messi is now the undisputed king of the fixture, with no one else's status even remotely comparable since Ronaldo's departure from Madrid to Juventus last year.

There is a staleness to the two squads in terms of many so-called star names, Messi and Karim Benzema aside. Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Toni Kroos, Modric, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba – all have been wonderful players and, in most cases, are still among the main attractions, but arguably every single one is past his prime.

But as we prepare to head into a new year and new decade, both sides have impressive youngsters waiting to be leading lights of the next generation, and some could even enjoy a decisive impact on Wednesday.

Barcelona

Ansu Fati - Winger, 17

The next jewel out of La Masia? Well, his lightning start to life in the Barca first team suggests so. Despite being just 16 years old at the time and without even representing their 'B' team, Fati was promoted to the senior side at the start of the season, becoming the club's second-youngest player as he featured against Real Betis. He then made himself the most junior goalscorer in their history. Nimble-footed, a good finisher and blessed with excellent vision, the teenager's potential appears limitless such is the ease with which he has adjusted to top-flight football.

Jean-Clair Todibo - Centre-back, 19

France Under-20 international Todibo has had a curious start to his Barca career, in that he has not made much of an impact. He joined from Toulouse – for whom he played 10 Ligue 1 games in 2018-19 – at the start of 2019, but then only featured twice in LaLiga before the campaign ended. Similarly, he has been sparingly used this term, but away to Inter in the Champions League he highlighted his potential. Making his Champions League debut, the defender was the best player on the pitch, coping comfortably defensively and showcasing considerable ability on the ball. The archetypal Barcelona centre-back, they already seem to have Pique's heir. That is if Barca resist the urge to cash in early, as reports suggest they are contemplating.

Frenkie de Jong - Central midfielder, 22

Probably the player on this list who least requires an introduction. De Jong rose to prominence last term with Ajax, playing a starring role as they went as far as the Champions League semi-final. While he has not quite hit those heights at Barca yet, there's no doubt about his ability. Once some of the older midfielders move on, De Jong will surely have the team built around him.

Pedri - Attacking midfielder, 17

He may be a year or two from making his first Clasico appearance, but Pedri looks destined for an illustrious career. Barca secured the attacking midfielder's signature in September when he was still 16, paying Las Palmas – where he has been important since returning on loan – an initial €5million. Media reports claim the Segunda club could eventually receive €25million for Pedri, whose release clause will balloon up to €400million when he becomes a first-team player at Camp Nou. A dazzling dribbler and a fine playmaker, Pedri is already seen as one of Spain's next great hopes and will surely light up El Clasico in the 2020s.

 

Real Madrid

Rodrygo Goes - Winger, 18

Even though Rodrygo cost Madrid a reported €45million from Neymar's former club Santos, it never felt as though there was quite the same hype around him from Madrid fans as there was Vinicius Junior. But the 18-year-old already seems to have moved ahead of Flamengo product Vinicius in the pecking order, with Rodrygo becoming something of a regular over the past couple of months. He is the Champions League's second-youngest hat-trick scorer following his treble against Galatasaray and is settling in at Madrid in encouraging fashion.

Vinicius Junior - Winger, 19

A positive debut campaign in Madrid gave Vinicius a real platform to build on this term, particularly given a lack of quality wide options aside from Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale – who is rarely in favour. The Brazil international is yet to nail down a starting role, with his performances a little inconsistent, though he remains an explosive option and has been used fairly regularly by Zinedine Zidane lately. If he progresses as expected, there is no reason why he and Rodrygo can't be pillars at Madrid over the next 10 years.

Federico Valverde - Central midfielder, 21

Valverde is by no means the typical Madrid player. He's not particularly flamboyant, meaning he lacks the aura of glamour of Vinicius and Rodrygo, yet he is enjoying an excellent breakthrough season. The Uruguayan midfielder has already made 12 LaLiga appearances this term – just four shy of his total for 2018-19 – and has truly earned Zidane's trust. Mixing an effective blend of combativeness, off-the-ball intelligence and fine ball control, Valverde could be Madrid's midfield lynchpin for years to come.

Martin Odegaard - Attacking midfielder, 21

The clamour to sign a 16-year-old Odegaard in 2015 at the time felt like the transfer saga to end all others. Madrid got their man, despite reported interest from Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and just about every other major European club. For a few years it seemed his potential may have been misread, but a solid loan spell at Vitesse last term saw him flourish and he has truly blossomed at Real Sociedad this season as a standout player in LaLiga. He'll almost certainly be back in 2020-21, and on the evidence of his current form, few would bet against him instantly starring.

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