Real Madrid’s Rivals

The most successful club in the Champions League history, where they wanted to get out of it with the new European Super Cup (ESL) plans, Spanish giants Real Madrid can be considered the Crème de la crème (The Best of the Best). In keeping that standard, your closest rivals would involuntarily play their parts by pushing you to new heights. Let’s look at them.


Not just the biggest rivalry for Real Madrid, El Classico is widely considered the best club football game in European football. It is also among the best-viewed sporting events in the world.

Although sportsmanship lost its place in their duels too often, this matchup always produces high-intensity entertainment value while still maintaining the passionate side. The two clubs’ global following played a vital role in making the fixture the most-followed sporting clash.

Why are they rivals?

There is a political meaning at the root of this rivalry. While FC Barcelona is seen as Catalonia notion representative, Real Madrid is from Spain’s capital and largest city.

These differences in political identifications meant Real is for the Spanish and Barca is for Catalan nationalism. As for the sporting institutions, these clubs are among the most successful in the football world.

How did the rivalry start?

With the 1930s credited for the period with which Barcelona developed the Catalan identity more than the centralized nationalism, the rivalries of Real Madrid and Barcelona also took a huge lift.

Under Spain’s long-serving Prime Minister Francesco Franco, FC Barcelona had to play a role outside the football pitch. And it was the reasoning behind Més que un club (More than a club).

While Franco’s reign ended in 1975, Catalan’s independence is still questioned during games at Camp Nou. The ultra culture in the 1980s gave this rivalry another dimension. And, with Barcelona a force to be reckoned with in Europe since the mid-2000s, the Champions League add another venue for the iconic rivalry.

Biggest Games

Every tie between the two Spanish giants has its story. But let’s look at some of the most defining encounters.

13 June 1943

Real Madrid 11-1 Barcelona 

In the return leg of the then-Spanish Cup semi-finals, Real Madrid overturned a 3-0 deficit from Catalan with the biggest scoreline in El Classico’s story. Both of these games were controversial with refereeing decisions.

It formed the era in which Madrid showed dictatorship to Barcelona the biggest victim in the process.

27 April 1960

Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona 

Alfredo Di Stefano’s transfer to Real Madrid was another decisive move in keeping the trend. Barca fought hard for his signing from River Plate, but the capital city’s side won the battle that helped them dominate Europe.

And, in 1960, the first-ever European Cup meeting opened a new chapter. Real progressed from the semi-final clash on their way to winning Europe’s premier competition for a record fifth time.

11 July 1968

Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona

Winning the Copa del Generalisimo final at the Santiago Bernabeu to lift the trophy in front of General Franco produced one of the finest moments for Barcelona at the time. The Bernabeu audience threw bottles onto the pitch to protest Antonio Rigo’s decision, but the referee accused Real Madrid of attempting to bribe him with a pre-match gift.

7 January 1995

Real Madrid 5-0 Barcelona

Long gone the Franco days, this performance and the result are regarded as one of the favorite El Classico by Real Madrid fans. It was also a crucial game in the race for the La Liga title.

Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano became the first Real Madrid player to score a Classico hat-trick in 30 years. Only Karim Benzema, in the 2022-23 Copa del Rey, repeated this feat since then.

23 November 2002

Barcelona 0-0 Real Madrid

A rare goalless draw will forever be remembered for the hostile reception awaited Luis Figo at Camp Nou. What started with banners hanging around the stadium continued with missiles of oranges, bottles, cigarette lighters, mobile phones, coins, and, most notably, a pig’s head.

As part of Florentino Perez’s ploy for a presidential election, Figo’s transfer caused a big reaction from Barcelona fans.

19 November 2005

Real Madrid 0-3 Barcelona

In such rivalry, three Barcelona players managed the impossible of getting applauded for their performance at Bernabeu. Ronaldinho, after scoring twice with majestic dribbles, was the recipient of the biggest appreciation.

Diego Maradona and the 2014 World Cup final winner Andres Iniesta were the other players to win the hearts of Madrid faithful. In 1980, Real Madrid’s Laurie Cunningham received applause from Barcelona fans at Camp Nou.

29 November 2009

Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona

Pep Guardiola’s troops dominated Europe in 2009, but their biggest story came from a visit to Bernabeu. The 6-2 victory was the result of a lethal striking partnership of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o.

All of them scored twice in a night the dominant Barca side had three times more shots than their hosts. Barcelona also scored five against Madrid the next season in one of Jose Mourinho’s worst defeats.


In 2011, Barcelona and Real Madrid played each other four times in only 18 days. This sequence included a Copa del Rey final as well as a semi-final tie in the Champions League.

As feared by Spain’s national team coach Vicente del Bosque, the tensions, war of words and red cards created friction between Spanish players at the time.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo era


In the 1950s, the individual battle was between Barcelona’s Hungarian star Laszlo Kubala and Di Stefano. Since CR7’s mega transfer to Real Madrid, another big chapter opened with the era of the Portuguese international and Messi.

For some, this rivalry eclipsed the one between Real Madrid and Barcelona to the point that it doesn’t have a similar feel since Ronaldo left for Juventus. MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) and BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) partnerships also left their mark in this era. May 6, 2018

Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid

There were three historical occasions in which a pasillo, a team given a guard of honor by their next opponent after clinching the league trophy, took place before an El Clasico fixture. But, in 2018, Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid refused to do so citing an incident from three years ago, where Madrid didn’t get one for a Club World Cup triumph.

Played for both

Marcos Alonso is the latest player to feature for both clubs, but he spent years in England and Fiorentina between the two spells. Javier Saviola (Barca-Real) and Luis Enrique (Real-Barca) were the last transfers involving the clubs.

As mentioned above, Luis Figo’s transfer was the biggest footballing story outside of the pitch between the clubs. 

Atletico Madrid

El Derbi is what comes next for Real Madrid. The two Madrid clubs also branched their rivalry to Europe since the 2014 Champions League final in Lisbon.

With Diego Simeone revamped Atleti’s chances of competing at the top level, their games gained more importance in comparison to the previous decades.

Why are they rivals?

But that didn’t mean there was no background story to it. This rivalry can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century as we’ll see in the next chapter. And Franco’s ruling also had its impact on this story.

How did the rivalry start?

Real Madrid – or more precisely Madrid Foot-Ball Club, as known in its formative years – used to acquire clubs in the Spanish capital. Even if that’s not workable, they used to sign the best players from those clubs to force them into giving up. 

Athletic Club Madrid, with the help of their then-parent club Athletic Club Bilbao, is credited for resisting this movement. And the battle takes another shape during Francoist era. 

For this rivalry to mark its place internationally, the 1959 European Cup semi-final tie played a massive role, however.

Biggest Games

1959 European Cup semi-final

Real Madrid needed a replay since both clubs won their respective home games by a solitary scoreline. Meanwhile, the next two seasons saw Atleti crowned domestic cup winners beating Real Madrid in the final both times.

7 March 1965

Real Madrid 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Jorge Mendonca, who later played for Barca, scored the only goal of the game as Atleti became the first team to beat Real Madrid in Bernabeu in eight years.

Five Copa del Rey finals

Despite the vast difference between the trophy cabinets of the two clubs, Atletico Madrid won in four of the five occasions they met in the domestic cup final.

Real’s only win was in 1975 at Atleti’s ground Vicente Calderon after a penalty shootout. The latest Atletico Madrid victory saw the reverse with Real Madrid losing the title at Santiago Bernabeu back in 2013 in a final their future superstar Thibaut Courtois was named man of the match.  

24 May 2014

Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid (A.E.T.)

Simeone came very close to adding the Champions League to his Europa League triumph before Sergio Ramos’ injury-time goal changed everything. Having to defend for their lives since Diego Godin’s first-half strike, Atletico players had no gas left on their tanks for the extra-time.

28 May 2016

Real Madrid 1-1 Atletico Madrid (Real won 5-3 on penalties)

That was the first European Cup (Champions League) final between clubs from the same city. And it repeated only two years later. Ramos’ goal (his first in the Champions League since the 2014 final) came early on this one and it was Atletico’s turn to force extra-time with Yannick Carrasco scoring in the last quarter of the game.

But Real Madrid once again lifted the trophy with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the winning penalty after Juanfran’s miss.

2016-17 Champions League semi-final

Real Madrid 4-2 Atletico Madrid (on agg) 

There was another meeting in the later stage of the European competition the next season with Real Madrid making the job difficult for Atleti with a 3-0 first-leg victory ahead of the final European fixture in the iconic Vicente Calderon.

15 August 2018

Real Madrid 2-4 Atletico Madrid (AET)

Despite another Ramos goal, the first UEFA Super Cup tie involving teams in the same city ended with Atletico Madrid winning the competition for the third time. Diego Costa scored in the first minute, but Real Madrid clawed back to lead before the naturalized Spanish international found the net once again.

In the first-half of the extra-time, long-time midfielders Saul and Koke scored to lift the underdogs to glory.

12 January 2020

Real Madrid 0-0 Atletico Madrid (Real won 4-1 on penalties)

The Supercopa final in Saudi Arabia was memorable for Federico Valverde’s tackle on Alvaro Morata as the last man. The Urguyan saw a red card, but it was a brave decision to keep the score level with the teams edging closer to a penalty shootout. 

And it worked. Real won on penalties as Valverde picked up the man-of-the-match trophy.

Played for both

Morata is one of those names from the list of players who played for both clubs. Atleti’s versatile midfielder Marcos Llorente and Real’s custodian Courtois are the other ones currently plying their trade in Madrid.

European Rivals

For Real Madrid’s pedigree in Europe, it’ll be fitting to mention a couple of their biggest rivals in the continent.

Bayern Munich

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich played for a record 26 times in the Champions League/European Cup history. Yet they have never clashed in the final of the competition.

The Spanish giants have the upper hand with 12 victories to Bayern’s 11. Real progressed to the next round in each of their last three meetings with Bayern.


The same happened with Real Madrid’s clashes with Liverpool, but two of them in the grand final – 2018 and 2022.

This rivalry has a unique history since it’s the most repeated fixture in the Champions League final. Liverpool were victorious in the first episode back in 1981 at Parc des Prince.


About Tony 9 Articles
I'm Tony, a football writer since 2005, from Warrington in the UK. I support Liverpool and have done since I was a kid. I've previously ran other footy sites, and have a love for the game overall (not just LFC). Find out more about me & my background on the about page, linked to in the site's main navigation.

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