The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2009 from Manchester United was the biggest possible statement of intent from Real Madrid.
It was a landmark summer of spending for Real – they splashed out upwards of €250 million on nine different players, including future stalwart Karim Benzema.
Xabi Alonso also arrived from Liverpool, whilst the club spent €67 million to prize 2007 Ballon D’Or winner Kaka away from AC Milan.
Barcelona, meanwhile, were riding the crest of a wave.
Under the management of Pep Guardiola, they had become the first team ever to win the treble of LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. They had elevated themselves to the top seat of Europe’s table – and didn’t look like relinquishing it any time soon.
Midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta were in their prime. Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o had scored 62 goals between them in all competitions that season. Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol were rocks at the back.
Central to the team’s rise was Lionel Messi.
The Argentinian scored 38 goals in all competitions in 2008/09, more than doubling his tallies from any previous professional season. At the end of 2009, he would become a Ballon D’Or winner.
Ronaldo had won the famous trophy the year earlier, meaning the first meeting between the duo in LaLiga would see football’s two best players in action.
The stage was set for a fiercely-anticipated El Clasico clash on November 29 2009.
There was drama before the game even kicked off, when it revelaed on the morning of El Clasico that Messi and Ronaldo were both doubts.
The Portuguese midfielder had been absent since suffering an ankle injury since October.
Thankfully, both men were passed fit to start. A packed Camp Nou prepared itself to find out who would strike that first blow in the title race.
Both sides had sat at the top of LaLiga at different points throughout the previous gameweek, meaning there was little to split them in the table.
The first half
It was Real who had the game’s first clear-cut opportunity, with two of their new superstars combining.
Kaka played in Ronaldo, who found himself in space in the penalty area. Despite striking his effort well, he was denied by a fine save from Victor Valdes.
Down the other end, Iniesta saw his driven shot saved by Real ‘keeper Iker Casillas. Valdes, called into action again, was then able to comfortably get himself behind Marcelo’s strike from outside the area.
The second half
If the first half saw relatively few clear-cut chances created, the second half was a completely different story.
It was Barca captain Carles Puyol who performed the first heroics of the half, throwing himself in front of Gonzalo Higuain’s effort.
Then it was the turn of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – on as a substitute in place of Thierry Henry – to cause Camp Nou to erupt.
The move that ended with the first goal of the game started with Dani Alves receiving the ball on the right flank, just inside the attacking half.
From there, he floated in a perfectly executed cross into the path of the Swede, who emphatically volleyed the ball into the corner past the helpless Casillas. First strike Barca.
However, ecstacy for Pep Guardiola‘s side quickly turned to an element of despair. Sergio Busquets was shown a second yellow card for handball, leaving his side down to 10 men.
The Barcelona boss then watched as Ronaldo typically leaped like a salmon to meet a Marcelo cross. However, he headed the ball over the bar.
Ronaldo’s adversary Messi featured the build-up of another Barca attack a few minutes later, which concluded with Eric Abidal firing a left-footed shot narrowly wide.
And after Karim Benzema – who had come on for the Portuguese star – fired over from close range for Real, Messi almost sealed the deal with two minutes to play.
He ran into the box to meet another exiqusite Alves pass, but saw his placed effort well saved by Casillas in the Real net.
With the clock ticking down, there was still time for more drama. Real’s Lassana Diarra levelled things up in terms of players on the pitch when he was booked for the second time after bringing down Xavi.
The full-time whistle blew, and their 1-0 victory meant Barca went top of the LaLiga table. It was win number two for Messi over Ronaldo that year, and the first of their battles in Spanish football.
Messi and Ronaldo would face off each season until 2018, when the latter left for Juventus.
Barca would do the double over Real later in the season, winning 2-0 at the Bernabeu. Messi scored the opener in the first half, before Pedro’s goal sealed the victory.
Guardiola’s side went on to win LaLiga for the second season in a row with 99 points, losing just once all season in the process.
Featured Image Credit: Getty