Live from Barcelona, and 24 hours before the Clasico is set to begin, I sat down with Barca legend Patrick Kluivert to get his thoughts on the big game, and his assessment on the state of sporting affairs at the club.
For me, it was a lot of fun, and a bit surreal, to have the conversation. As a fan, Kluivert was the striker on the first Barca team I can remember watching. He played alongside some of the greatest to wear the colors, like Rivaldo and Pep Guardiola, as well as the most reviled in Luis Figo (something we get into). His perspective on the Clasico is truly unique, as both a former player and someone currently covering the event as a pundit alongside Iker Casillas.
In the first part, we focus on the rivalry. In the second part to be published next week, we dive into his thoughts on the season in general, and what the future might look like for the club. Here’s what Kluivert had to say.
Kluivert on what it’s like to play in a Clasico
Well, you know what it is, the game before or the week before the Clasico, when the game ends, the press directly begins already to warm up the Clasico for next week. So, the Clasico for me personally is the best game that I’ve ever played and I played in a lot of big games. In Milan, of course, with AC against Inter. In Holland with Ajax against Feyenoord. But El Clasico, that’s a special, special issue, history wise as well. It’s the most-watched game in the world. The Clasico is a special game and if you are playing at this level you want to play games like this. That’s what you search for as a player. It’s really special.
Kluivert on Clasico nerves
Of course, it’s more tense but it’s not nervous. You don’t get that because when you start going on the pitch, the nerves and the tensions will go away especially if you’re playing at home. You know, the crowd is amazing.
Kluivert on playing with Figo
Figo is a fantastic player and an awesome person as well. But when he made the move directly to Madrid the fans were very angry. But you make the decision and if you stand by it then it’s difficult. It was spicy, it was very spicy towards the Barcelona fans. The first Clasico when he played in the Real Madrid shirt at Camp Nou it was a really difficult game for him because the fans were so angry and threw everything on the pitch. It was devastating for Luis. I felt for him, but, you know, that was the reaction of the fans and it was really, really hard for him. But that’s the way, if you make that decision, you know what’s waiting in the Clasico.
Kluivert on if this Clasico is a title-decider
I think that if they win tomorrow, from my point of view, it’s too big. If they win tomorrow, they have a good run to winning the league as well. That’s what I think.
Kluivert on how Barca should play without Pedri and Dembele
Well, the Clasico is always a special gift. Players will be extra motivated, the ones who are in the starting 11, although Pedri is a fantastic player and he can make the difference in the game. They have other players who can substitute of course. All the players, they know what’s on the line, how to perform. It’s a pity he can’t play. But on the other hand, I think that Karim Benzema won’t play as well. So there’s also a big, big blow for Real Madrid. We’re playing at home and we need to try and dominate the game. They also have players who can decide the game very quickly and very effectively. The most important thing is don’t lose. That’s key and if you can make the game and score early then Real Madrid will have more difficulties.
Kluivert on Lewandowski’s goal drought
He’s not worried. I know Robert as a person and he’s quite relaxed. Of course, he knows that’s a big thing on the line and he wants to make his mark on this game for sure. He’s not worried, he will try and do everything. And I think with Raphinha, there could be a very real threat for Real Madrid. On the other hand, Vinicius is also very, very good. It will be a very exciting game I think. Barca need to understand they need to carry the game.
Kluivert on Barca’s defence
Yeah, the defense, they switched around quite a lot, Kounde as central defender, Kounde as right-back and vice versa with Araujo. I think that Christensen did a good job, Marcos Alonso when he played, he did a good job and Jordi Alba or Balde on the left side. They can switch around quite easily but, you know, against Real Madrid, you need to have a solid defense. And what I mean by that is especially in the middle. You need to have the power to correct. If the wingers of Madrid dribble Barca’s full-backs, they need to cover well and I think that will be key in tomorrow’s game.
Kluivert on who should play at right-back against Vinicius
I think the best thing would be for Araujo to play at right-back and then Kounde on the right of the central defense and I would play Christensen and Balde.
Kluivert on Balde
I know Alejandro very well. I signed him, his first contract from the youth team, so I know him very well. I know his qualities. He’s super fast. It seems Xavi is now putting him in from the start and trusts him. He went with the Spain team too. His confidence is good and I think, especially offensively, he is so strong and so quick, for me he is in the first XI for sure.
Kluivert on if Balde should start El Clasico
Maybe Jordi is more of a Clasico player in the beginning but overall I would say Balde is on a run so I would put Balde in front of Jordi, also in this game.