In recent years, ElClasico has produced some epic individual battles, from Lionel Messi’s clashes with Sergio Ramos to Cristiano Ronaldo’s sprints against Gerard Piqué to Andrés Iniesta’s chess matches against Luka Modrić. Now, there is a new rivalry that is set to dominate ElClasico for many years to come: FC Barcelona’s Ronald Araújo vs Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior. Given that the Brazilian left winger is one of the most dangerous dribblers in f world football, Xavi Hernández needed to find a solution and his response has been to move Araújo from his preferred role at centre-back to instead play as a right-back whenever these two rivals face off.
This has worked well, as Araújo has the defensive prowess to make tackles and steal the ball from Vinícius, he has the positional awareness to be in the right place to mark the Brazilian and he also has the speed to catch up to the winger whenever Vinícius finds a pocket of space.
The Uruguayan defender’s unique skillset gives him a better chance than most of stopping the man Carlo Ancelotti has described as “the most decisive” player in world football. The most exciting thing about this rivalry is the fact that it’s only just beginning, with Araújo aged 24 and Vinícius 22. They have met in five FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid games so far, and Vinícius won the first two: a 2-1 LaLiga Santander win in 2020/21 and a 3-2 extra time win in the 2021/22 Spanish Super Cup semis.
What’s interesting, though, is that Araújo played as a centre-back in both of those losses. It was only then that Xavi started deployed the Uruguayan at right-back to stop Vinícius, and Araújo has won all three of the ElClasico contests he has participated in since then: a 4-0 LaLiga Santander win at the Bernabéu in 2021/22, the 3-1 Barça victory in the 2022/23 Spanish Super Cup final and the 1-0 first-leg win of the 2022/23 Copa del Rey semi-final. Araújo’s value as a right-back was also clear to see in the one ElClasico he has missed in the past year. When Real Madrid defeated FC Barcelona 3-1 in the first LaLiga Santander ElClasico of this season, he was absent through injury. Amazingly, they haven’t faced off yet on the international stage, but we’ll surely see many battles between these two in games between Uruguay and Brazil as well. For now, this is a rivalry that is starting to define ElClasico and it has been thrilling for the fans of both clubs and for neutrals too. These are two players who fully understand the brilliance of the other, making this a rivalry based on mutual respect.
In their battles together, it has been common to see Araújo or Vinícius offer a hand to help the other back to their feet after one of the two hits the deck. Even though he expects to suffer against Vinícius over the coming years, Araújo has praised the Real Madrid man, stating: “He is a spectacular player, a player who I love to watch. He’s really difficult to defend. We’re going to suffer quite a lot against him in the coming years.” The next chapter of this Araújo vs Vinícius rivalry is just around the corner, with the next ElClasico taking place at the Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday, March 19th.