The trip to Camp Nou in November 2002 wasn't actually Luis Figo's first visit to his former stadium since donning the white of Real Madrid. But it is the most memorable. The former Barcelona hero had decided against taking the corners on his first return following his controversial world-record move to Madrid but this time he elected to resume deadball duties. "To do otherwise would be to act abnormally," said Real sporting director Jorge Valdano. But there was nothing normal about the treatment the Portuguese winger received as beer cans, cigarette lighters and even a glass whisky bottle rained down on him. And yet, the extraordinary events will be remembered for one specific item. A suckling pig's head thrown onto the pitch. Deplorable or delicious, depending upon your sympathies, the incident has come to symbolise the tribal intensity of El Clasico.
While Figo had been treated to such a hostile reception three years earlier, the genius of Ronaldinho sparked a very different response from the Madrid crowd following a virtuoso display at the Bernabeu in 2005. In the week he was named the European Footballer of the Year, the Brazilian star humbled the opposition Galacticos as Barca emerged as the 3-0 victors in the Spanish capital. Ronaldinho netted a second-half brace - each time cutting in from the left and beating Sergio Ramos with ease before slotting the ball past the helpless Iker Casillas - to earn the begrudging applause of the home fans. This was a world-class footballer at the peak of his powers and - in European terms at least - his arrival sparked a power shift in Spanish football. Real had won three Champions League trophies from 1998 to 2002. Barca have claimed three since - the first of which came courtesy of Ronaldinho's brilliance later that season.
Although Lionel Messi did enough to earn a Champions League winners' medal in that 2006 campaign, he missed the latter stages of the tournament through injury and was but a mere pup as Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o took centre stage. It was 2006/07 that marked his breakthrough season and it was that year's El Clasico in the Camp Nou that surely heralded his breakthrough game. Messi became the first player in a dozen years to score a hat-trick in the fixture, three times hauling his side back level, including a sublime injury-time equaliser. It wasn't all about Barcelona, however. The point arguably kept Fabio Capello his job and the confidence-boosting draw inspired an improvement in Real's fortunes as they went on to claim an unlikely La Liga crown - with David Beckham finally winning his first title with the club.
The following season saw Pep Guardiola take charge of Barcelona and the Catalan hero promptly changed the course of El Clasico history as he assembled a side built on tiki-taka football and the products of La Masia. Personnel changes were limited but by putting the club back in touch with this ethos, Guardiola got the team playing football that no side could match as they won La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League in his first season in charge. Real had taken the title race into May by winning 17 and drawing one of their 18 league matches since the previous Clasico. But in the Bernabeu they were thrashed. A 6-2 away win with a brace apiece from Messi and Thierry Henry. Chelsea and Manchester United were beaten later that month as Barca added the European title to their Spanish one and entered a new era of dominance.
If the 6-2 win in the Bernabeu could be seen as a seminal moment for Guardiola's Barcelona, the 5-0 footballing masterclass of November 2010 was perhaps the high watermark of his reign. Jose Mourinho had enjoyed the best start of any Real Madrid manager in the history of the club but he was impotent to prevent Barca in the Camp Nou. Although it was Xavi who opened the scoring, it was Messi, while curiously failing to get on the scoresheet, who controlled the contest. While Cristiano Ronaldo tried and failed to find his first El Clasico goal, the Argentine genius probed and prompted in his 'false nine' role. It was a sublime team performance and the home fans lapped it up. Pedro added a second, David Villa grabbed a brace and young substitute Jeffren found a late fifth goal to sum it up - this was a side playing in perfect harmony.
Although Barcelona won the Primera Liga title in 2011 and were to add the Champions League crown with a devastating defeat of Manchester United at Wembley, the treble of 2009 was not repeated as Mourinho claimed his first silverware as Real Madrid coach. The Mestalla in Valencia was the scene for a tense Copa del Rey final that remained goalless into extra time before Ronaldo intervened. With penalties looming, the Portuguese star - who had netted from the spot against Barca earlier that week but had yet to score against them from open play - leapt into the air to power home a fine header from Angel Di Maria's cross. The winger was later sent off but it didn't put a dampener on the result - Real's first domestic cup win in 18 years and a rare retaliatory shot across the bow of Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona side.
That Copa del Rey final was the second of four meetings between the sides in the space of just 18 days as the world became engulfed by all things Clasico. A penalty apiece from Ronaldo and Messi had seen the two teams share the points in the phoney war that was the league meeting between the sides on April 16 before Real Madrid grabbed the win in the aforementioned cup contest five days later. But it was the two-legged Champions League semi-final that mattered most to these two sides and that belonged to Barcelona as Messi provided the magic amid a bad-tempered first leg in Madrid.
Hail the king
In the aforementioned last four meeting it was, almost inevitably, Messi who proved to be the difference between the two heavyweights. Pepe was sent off before Messi beat five men to score one of the best goals the tournament has ever seen to seal a 2-0 away win. Mourinho moaned of a conspiracy but there was no way back for his team - a 1-1 draw in the return leg taking Barca to Wembley. Jose would never concede it but if you're going to be beaten, there's no better way to lose than by a moment of sheer genius.
Real did not have to wait too long for their revenge. Barcelona's final season with Guardiola at the helm ended without a Primera Liga trophy as Mourinho's men ended a run of three successive titles for the Catalan club. Real showed greater consistency as they efficiently thrashed the rest of the division, racking up a record goals tally in the process, but into April there remained a nagging suspicion that Barca were the better side - not least due to a 3-1 win at the Bernabeu earlier in the campaign. That changed in the Camp Nou when the visitors emerged as 2-1 winners. Sami Khedira's opener was cancelled out by Alexis Sanchez with 20 minutes remaining but the defining moment came shortly afterwards with Ronaldo rounding Victor Valdes before imploring the crowd to calm themselves. Sweet revenge for the man so often in Messi's shadow.
Last time out
After that hectic period, El Clasico has embarked on calmer waters with Mourinho moving on and a seven month wait between meetings. The last time the two sides came face to face was in March as Real Madrid ran out 2-1 winners. Karim Benzema opened the scoring for the hosts at the Bernabeu before Messi - who else - found a first-half equaliser. It was Ramos who had the final say though, once again proving his goalscoring threat with the header for the winner. As matches between the teams go, this was as calm as they come with Real in the midst of a two-legged knockout tie with Manchester United in the Champions League and Barcelona already boasting a near unassailable lead in La Liga. Saturday's match between the two is likely to be another matter entirely...