What is the Premier League's 'El Clasico'?

Manchester United v Manchester City, or against Liverpool, or Tottenham v Arsenal? Which game is English football's biggest and most entertaining?

England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are very different terrains for footballers but, as we prepare for tonight’s El Clasico delights, I wonder whether the Premier League has a fixture of such significance.

Manchester United v Manchester City

The obvious comparison at present would be the current title-holders versus the current league leaders. When Manchester United visited the City of Manchester Stadium in December, their 3-2 victory had a cataclysmic effect on rivals Manchester City’s ambitions of retaining the title this term.

In terms of the two sides being (at present) the two best in the land, there are comparisons to be made to the El Clasico between La Liga’s two best clubs and the intensity is similar because of the geographical proximity of City and United in Manchester.

Manchester United v Liverpool

However, Barcelona and Real Madrid are not rivals because of their geography but rather their glorious histories of success dating back numerous decades. Manchester City have only recently become a genuine threat to United’s dominance over the Premier League.

You have to go to the second most decorated club in English football history to find anywhere near the prolonged and intense rivalry of El Clasico. Liverpool are that team.

Liverpool were the giants of English football all throughout the last century and it is only very recently that Manchester United eclipsed their record of 18 top tier titles.

For fans of both clubs that are a little on the mature side, this is undoubtedly the fixture with the most history, meaning and importance in the whole season’s calendar.

It’s unfortunate now that Liverpool have fallen from their perch in recent years but their Champions League title win in 2008 shows they will certainly be a big big club for many years to come.

Manchester United v Chelsea

The problem is with that fixture being regarded, as a ‘classic’ of El Classico proportions is that it lacks the political context of the Catalans versus the Capital City.

The General Franco regime, the political and social struggles of the last century are still firmly embedded in the consciousness of both sets of supporters and it’s still in that spirit that an El Classico is played.

The biggest spending club in world footballing history is Real Madrid. The biggest spending club in England is Chelsea. Add that to the fact that there’s the North versus South divide of a provincial city versus the capital’s capitalist giants.

In the last decade, before the Etihad overhauls, Chelsea or Manchester United won the title. Since Jose Mourinho left for Real Madrid there has been less intensity to the fixture but it’s still up there as one of the most crucial clashes every season.

Chelsea v Arsenal

Whilst we’re on the subject of spending and philosophy – if anyone has the Barcelona ethic and philosophy, it has to be Arsenal. Arsene Wenger’s socialist ideals and economic sustainability at the club come closest to the philosophy of the Catalans.

Chelsea, in that regard, are the equivalent of Real Madrid. However, the fixture has lost it’s appeal and significance in the past few years as the Gunners have slipped further and further down the table and now are not regarded as the super power of English football they were in the days of the Invincibles.

Arsenal v Tottenham

If, however, we’re talking purely on a football basis – none of the above can claim to have the style and verve of an El Classico. If we’re talking about La Liga and possession football with attacking ambition and stylish flair, perhaps the North London derby comes closest.

Tottenham and Arsenal are arguably the closes to La Liga-style football we see in England and with Tottenham’s resurgence into the top four, this Sunday’s North London derby at White Hart Lane has the making of a classic, perhaps of El Classico proportions.

image: © borkur.net

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