By Kris Voakes
As with most clashes between Barcelona and Real Madrid, this Saturday's Clasico is set to be centred around the magnificent figures of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But whereas the figureheads of the two Spanish giants are usually embroiled in a battle for the Fifa Ballon d'Or, this time around the pair are simply competing to be even considered.
Franck Ribery's sensational form with Champions League-winning Bayern Munich during 2013 has already helped him to pip the perennial award winners to the Uefa Player of the Season trophy for 2012-13, and he currently stands as a clear favourite for the main prize at the Ballon d'Or gala in January. But with the shortlist set to be announced on Tuesday, this weekend's Clasicoclash comes at the perfect time for one of Messi and Ronaldo to stake a late claim for the award.
|BALLON D'OR WINNERS | Individual kings since 2008
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||CRISTIANO RONALDO||XAVI HERNANDEZ|
||ANDRES INIESTA||XAVI HERNANDEZ|
|2011||LIONEL MESSI||CRISTIANO RONALDO||XAVI HERNANDEZ|
||CRISTIANO RONALDO||ANDRES INIESTA|
It is arguable that Ribery's performances in Bayern's treble-winning side have already stacked up enough credit to end Messi's four-year run of victories in the Best Player category of football's homage to the Oscars, but immediacy often plays its part in such events. Should either the Argentine or the Portuguese turn in a blinder at Camp Nou, then it will be difficult for voters to think back beyond a huge performance in one of the world's biggest twice-annual sporting fixtures.
As if proof were needed, Messi and Ronaldo have now collected five straight Ballons d'Or between them, with last year's 2-2 Clasico draw thought to have helped to clinch the award for the Barca No.10. Many claimed the clash would settle the world player gong, with Ronaldo needing to outperform his big rival in order to strike gold, but the two cancelled each other out with a brace of goals each.
Cartoon of the Day: Messi and Ronaldo's last chance to stop Ribery pursuit
And that was nothing new. In four of the last five years, Ronaldo and Messi have hogged the top two spots in the voting between them. It has become a simple way of life, with the game's best two players of their generation sharing the significant limelight of football's modern age.
The same tussle will again be in the forefront of the world's collective mind as the two step out at 1800 CET on Saturday, but this time the extra prize for the winner will be the right to challenge Ribery for the individual crown. The timing couldn't be better for one of football's greatest ever players to state his case for another title. The only question is: which one?