El Clasico: 10 times Spain’s biggest game changed the course of history

As Julen Lopetegui faces a pivotal Clasico, he would not be the first Real Madrid or Barcelona coach to see their fate shaped by this game.

Julen Lopetegui’s position as Real Madrid coach is hanging by a thread as he prepares for a trip to Barcelona and he is by no means the first to go into the fixture fearing for his future.

Indeed, the history of El Clasico is packed with stories of coaches whose jobs depended on the result of Spanish football’s biggest match, including many who have failed to survive defeat.

Here are 10 of the fixture’s most memorable make-or-break matches that shaped the careers of some of football’s most famous coaches.

Julen Lopetegui faces an uncertain future as El Clasico approaches



Having led Barcelona to four consecutive LaLiga titles, Johan Cruyff was firmly established as one of the club’s great coaches by the time he took his side to the Santiago Bernabeu in January 1995.

The Blaugrana, who had beaten their bitter rivals 5-0 almost exactly a year earlier, were subjected to a humiliating defeat by the same scoreline as Ivan Zamorano scored a hat-trick and further goals came from Luis Enrique and Jose Amavisca.

The result was arguably the beginning of the end for Cruyff, who never won another title with the club and described the game as one of his worst moments in football.


Johan Cruyff was one of Barcelona’s great coaches



On one of the most loathed nights in Barcelona’s history for the club’s supporters, Frank Rijkaard’s team complied with tradition and gave newly crowned LaLiga champions Real Madrid a guard of honour before El Clasico kicked off in May 2008.

Worse was to follow for the Catalans, who conceded goals by Raul, Arjen Robben, Gonzalo Higuain and Ruud van Nistelrooy in a painful 4-1 defeat and Rijkaard’s five-year tenure as head coach ended the following day when he was sacked.

Defeat to Real Madrid brought Frank Rijkaard’s time in charge of Barcelona to an end



After defeat to Sevilla at the Bernabeu left Real Madrid nine points behind Barcelona with three defeats from their previous four league games, head coach Bernd Schuster said victory in El Clasico would be “impossible” for his side.

Schuster’s comments stoked ire among the club’s directors and he was axed immediately, with star striker Raul commenting: “No-one should write us off. We’re not dead.”

But the German coach was proved correct as Madrid, under Juande Ramos, lost 2-0 at Camp Nou courtesy of goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi.

Bernd Schuster paid the price for suggesting Real Madrid could not beat Barcelona



Juande Ramos replaced Bernd Schuster at Real Madrid in December 2008, and up until a Clasico on May 2, 2009, Los Blancos were well in the title race.

But a 6-2 hammering at the Santiago Bernabeu turned the tide firmly in Barca’s favour, with Madrid imploding in the process.

Four successive league defeats followed as Madrid finished nine points behind Barca in what was Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of the Blaugrana, and Ramos would not survive to take on a second campaign, with Manuel Pellegrini replacing the former Tottenham manager in June 2009.

Juande Ramos looks on as Real Madrid lose 6-2 to Barcelona



Juande Ramos’ replacement at Santiago Bernabeu did not fare much better than his predecessor.

A 2-0 home defeat to Barca on April 10 was a first defeat in 13 league games for Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Madrid, who did not lose another all season.

But that was not enough to keep Pellegrini in the hot seat, with Madrid’s directors confirming that he was being replaced by Jose Mourinho just over a month later.

A 2-0 Clasico defeat did not help Manuel Pellegrini hold onto his job at Real Madrid



Barcelona were unbeaten in 54 home matches and making ground in the title race when Real Madrid ventured to Camp Nou in April 2012.

Jose Mourinho, whose team were four points clear at the summit, knew victory would just about deliver the LaLiga triumph the club craved after a Barca three-peat.

He got that, and a victory to savour over Pep Guardiola, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo.

The forward struck soon after Alexis Sanchez’s 70th-minute equaliser to secure a 2-1 win that effectively sealed Mourinho’s first and only league success in Spain.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner set Jose Mourinho on the way to his only LaLiga triumph



On March 23 2014, defending LaLiga champions Barcelona trailed Madrid by four points with 10 games left.

Gerardo Martino, in his first season at Barca, was in a bullish mood in the build up, though, saying: “A draw isn’t a good result though that depends on how the game goes. We’re convinced we can win the Clasico. It’s probably our last chance to win the league.”

That prediction was only half-true, however.

While Barca did indeed beat their rivals – Lionel Messi’s hat-trick making him the all-time top scorer in Clasicos and securing a 4-3 win – it was not enough to secure the league title, which ultimately went to Atletico Madrid, and Martino announced he was to leave his role after just one year in charge.

Gerardo Martino left Barcelona after one year in charge



Carlo Ancelotti’s role in ending Real Madrid’s long wait for a 10th Champions League in May 2014 mattered little a year later when he was dismissed.

Marca had dubbed the Clasico in March 2015 “do or die” for Ancelotti and he was unable to prevent Los Blancos from slipping to a 2-1 defeat courtesy of goals from Jeremy Mathieu and Luis Suarez.

Despite only losing one further game that season, Ancelotti was relieved of his duties at the end of the campaign, belatedly proving Marca right.

Carlo Ancelotti lost a pivotal Clasico 2-1



Having landed his dream job as head coach at his boyhood club Madrid, Rafael Benitez did not last long at the Bernabeu.

Although a 2-2 draw with former side Valencia in January 2015 proved the final straw, Benitez’s days had seemed numbered ever since a crushing Clasico defeat two months earlier.

Ten-man Madrid were thrashed 4-0 by Barca at home as Luis Suarez netted a pair either side of goals from Neymar and Andres Iniesta.

Time was ticking on Rafael Benitez’s Real Madrid career after this derby defeat


Luis Enrique could hardly have had a better start to life at Barcelona, winning the treble in his first season in charge at Camp Nou.

A domestic double followed in 2015-16, but by the time April 24 2017 rolled around, Luis Enrique had already announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the campaign.

Barca required a win to keep their title challenge alive, and it was Lionel Messi – typically – who came up with the goods at Santiago Bernabeu, finding the bottom-right corner with just seconds remaining to clinch a 3-2 win.

But despite Messi famously celebrating by holding up his shirt to the Madrid faithful, it was not enough to swing the title race in Barca’s favour as a hat-trick of LaLiga triumphs evaded Luis Enrique.

Luis Enrique celebrates with Lionel Messi, but the pair could not turn the title tide