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The Debate: Barcelona 2008-2011 or Real Madrid 2016-2018?

Old foes Real Madrid and Barcelona will lock horns on Sunday in Spain's most famous football fixture, El Clasico.

The pair flaunt an illustrious history and both have produced a catalogue of the greatest sides to have graced the game.

Arguably one of the most iconic sides in club football, the Barcelona team of 2008-2011 won three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies under Pep Guardiola. while Real Madrid became the first outfit to win the Champions League in three consecutive years with Zinedine Zidane between 2016 and 2018.

But which of these fabled teams is greater?

Our Sports & Betting News writers have delved into the debate and shared who they think reigns supreme.

Real Madrid v Barcelona

Barcelona weren't just the best football team, they changed how the game was played

The Barcelona teams between 2008 and 2011 were, quite simply, the pinnacle of club football.

It feels such a long time ago now, but the team was so good it began a revolution in football.

The Barcelona team Pep Guardiola inherited contained the like of Deco and Ronaldinho and were Champions League winners in 2006. But it was a very much a team for the here and now; it didn’t have the core to build a legacy.

Guardiola quickly recognised that, and amongst his first moves as manager was to get rid of some of the team’s biggest names and add players who he knew could play to his desired philosophy: short passing and high pressing.

He’s now recognised as one of the best midfielders of all time, but it would’ve been easy for Xavi to have left Barcelona prior to Guardiola’s arrival. Bayern Munich were looking to sign Xavi, but Guardiola recognised the talents of his fellow La Masia graduate and made him a crucial part of his revolution.

In Guardiola’s first season, Barcelona won the Treble. A phenomenal achievement, no question, but the team was arguably at its best two years later.

The Barcelona team that won the Treble beat an out-of-sorts Real Madrid to the domestic trophies. The following season, they won La Liga with 99 points, losing in the Champions League semi-final thanks to a tactical masterclass by Jose Mourinho, then manager of Inter.

The season after, however, saw Barcelona win the league again – this time beating a Real Madrid lining up with Cristiano Ronaldo (now in his second season), Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and the rest of the superstars assembled – but most importantly, led by Mourinho.

Mourinho would get the best of Guardiola in the Copa del Rey final, denying Barcelona a second Treble in three seasons, but Barcelona did beat Manchester United in another Champions League final, in what was about as dominant a performance as you’ll see.

It wasn’t the 4-0 of Milan v Barcelona in 1994, but it so easily could have been. United never laid a glove on their counterparts, with the midfield trio of Sergio Busquets-Xavi-Andres Iniesta – perhaps as close to a perfect midfield three as you could get – running rings around the Red Devils, and David Villa, Pedro and Lionel Messi up front leaving defenders dizzy.

Upon his arrival at the club, Guardiola offered a demonstration to goalkeeper Victor Valdes about passing to his defenders who’d be situated either side of him from goal kicks. It’s commonplace now but it was genuinely revolutionary at the time. Valdes said he thought Guardiola was crazy but did it anyway – to great effect. Barcelona would play out from the back, passing through teams at will.

It wasn’t just the best team to have played football, it was a team that changed how football was played.

Real Madrid conquered Europe not once, not twice but three times in a row – they were a relentless winning machine

From 2016 to 2018, Real Madrid conquered all those that stood before them in Europe.

Everyone knows of Los Blancos’ rich pedigree in one of world football’s most prestigious club competitions but no team has ever dominated the Champions League/European Cup like Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid.

They may not have possessed the vast individual quality that the Galacticos did but this team was still littered with superstars.

At the forefront of it all stood the imperious Cristiano Ronaldo; the poster boy of their success, the dictionary definition of ‘clutch’ and one of the greatest players to have ever graced the game.

In midfield was the perfectly assembled trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro. Where the latter instilled defensive discipline, Modric and Kroos were orchestrating proceedings with elegance and finesse.

Behind them stood the impenetrable Sergio Ramos, a natural leader and born winner who best epitomised the team’s unrelenting desire to succeed.

Not to forget the likes of Karim Benzema, Marcelo, Pepe, Raphael Varane, Isco, Dani Carvajal and a certain Welsh wing wizard in Gareth Bale.

Their best year came in 2016/17. Retrieving the La Liga title from Barcelona, Los Blancos defeated Napoli, Bayern Munich, city rivals Atletico Madrid and Juventus on their way to back-to-back Champions League successes.

Trophies in the Super Cup, Supercopa de Espana and FIFA Club World Cup only provided extra sparkle to an otherwise domineering campaign that saw Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale conjure a combined 77 goals; 21 less than the trio had managed the year before.

From a playing style perspective, there is an argument that Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona made this Real Madrid team appear as eye-catching as a Milton Keynes roundabout.

But this Real Madrid team were inevitable. Even when they were pegged back by Juventus in the 2018 Champions League quarter-final, it felt only a matter of time before the hosts mustered the match-winner. A collective group of serial winners, finding ways to claim victory by any means necessary.

Individual quality would again see them prevail in the final against Liverpool that year. Perched between Loris Karius’ two calamitous errors was Bale’s iconic bicycle kick, a goal that wrestled the tie back in Real Madrid’s favour.

Even under the immense pressure that encircles the Santiago Bernabeu, this Real Madrid team harvested an elite mentality that instilled fear into the opposition and saw them prevail time and time again.

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