El Clasico has always been a highly anticipated match, but this Sunday's clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid ushers in a new era. Most significantly, the high scoring duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo won't be around. Apart from the former Barca captain, former Real Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos has also moved on. This season will be Karim Benzema's chance to stake his claim as the king of El Clasico, but he has some tough competition.

The last El Clasico that did not star either Messi or Ronaldo was played way back in 2005. Back then, it was Ronaldinho who played the lead role for Barcelona, a throne that Messi eventually inherited and made his own. Cristiano Ronaldo joined Real Madrid in 2009, and he made himself a legend partly for his contributions in the numerous Clasicos he participated in until he left the club in 2018.

Messi scored 26 goals in El Clasico fixtures, while Ronaldo scored 18 times for Los Blancos. When Ronaldo left, it was Ramos who took over as Real Madrid's charismatic leader. Now that he has also left the club, Benzema has a chance to show the world that he is ready for the lead role.

Benzema has had an impressive season so far, and is in the running for the Ballon d'Or. However, he has pretenders to the throne already breathing down his neck. Youngsters Ansu Fati and Vinicius Junior are also being pegged to be tonight's heroes for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Of course, both clubs are filled to the brim with talent and some surprises might be in store. Either way, whoever shines tonight will surely be hailed as a hero. The clash between these two bitter rivals always meant more than the actual result on the pitch, and it remains to be seen which side will have the bragging rights at least until they face each other again later in the season.

Karim Benzema
Spectacular: Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring AFP / JAVIER SORIANO