Seven Best Soccer Rivalries in the World
Soccer is a game of skill, strategy, tactics – and deep hatred for your rivals. At least that’s how it is at the top levels of club soccer, where there’s billions of dollars and the reputation of entire countries at stake. Rivalries that were left simmering for decades are boiling over now that the heat’s been turned up.
Take Manchester City vs. Manchester United, for example. These English Premier League mainstays have battled each other since 1881, but there was quite a lull there during the 1980s and ‘90s when City were in steep decline. It wasn’t until Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 that the club became what it is today, regularly at the top of the soccer odds and rekindling their rivalry with United along the way.
Give it a few more years to burn, and the Manchester Derby could join the following top seven list of the world’s best soccer rivalries, as compiled by the staff here at Bodog Sportsbook.
– Al Ahly vs. Zamalek
– Arsenal vs. Tottenham
– Everton vs. Liverpool
– Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04
– Ajax vs. Feyenoord
– Flamengo vs. Fluminense
– Orlando Pirates vs. Kaizer Chiefs
– Chivas de Guadalajara vs. Club America
– Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders
7. Inter Milan vs. AC Milan
Some would say Roma vs. Lazio is a more deserving Serie A rivalry, but we’re giving the nod to the Derby della Madonnina because of the shared history between these two clubs. Inter (short for Internazionale) split off from the Milan Cricket and Football Club in 1908 because the powers that be didn’t want to hire international players – Italians only, although Sweden’s Gunnar Nordahl (221 goals) would go on to become AC Milan’s all-time leading scorer.
Not co-incidentally, Inter (led by Giuseppe Meazza’s 287 goals) have been cast as the “bourgeois” team in this rivalry, with AC Milan appealing more to the working class. They’ve shared the same stadium since 1947: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, or San Siro for short. As we go to press, Inter hold the series advantage with 89 wins, 69 draws and 79 losses, after sweeping both legs of their 2023 UEFA Champions League semifinal 3-0 on aggregate.
6. Liverpool vs. Manchester United
For now, the North West Derby remains the cornerstone of English soccer. These are the two most decorated clubs in the Premiership, and while their fortunes have waxed and waned over the years along with their respective cities, United (Wayne Rooney, 253 goals) lead their series 82-58-71 at press time while winning 20 league titles to Liverpool’s 19.
The Reds (Ian Rush, 346 goals) have had more success in Europe, though, winning six championships to three for Manchester United. The one time they met was in the Round of 16 at the 2015-16 Europa League; Liverpool won 2-0 at home and drew United 1-1 at Old Trafford to advance.
5. Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce
We’ve kept things relatively civil up to now. Here’s where things get really heated. The Intercontinental Derby has seen Turkish rivals Galatasaray SK (Metin Oktay, 356 goals) and Fenerbahce SK (Zeki Riza Sporel, 470 goals) play each other 396 times since 1909, with Fener enjoying a 148-122-126 advantage.
They call it The Intercontinental because it pits the two sides of Istanbul against each other: Galatasaray representing the European (read “bourgeois”) side, and Fenerbahce the Asian (read “working-class”) side. This combustible mix led to the infamous 1934 Riots where the two teams ended up fighting each other on the pitch – and into the stands at Taksim Stadium.
4. Olympiacos vs. Panathinaikos
Not to be outdone, the top rivalry in Greece is called the Derby of the Eternal Enemies for a reason. Panathinaikos (Krzysztof Warzycha, 244 goals) represents the higher-class city centre of Athens; Olympiacos (Giorgos Sideris, 299 goals) represents the working-class port of Piraeus to the southwest. It’s a tale as old as time.
Olympiacos lead this derby (aka “The Mother of All Battles”) 87-74-54, and they’ve been the more successful of Greece’s top two teams overall, winning 79 recognized major titles to 42. But again, it’s Panathinaikos who’ve enjoyed more success in Europe, making it all the way to the 1971 European Cup final.
3. River Plate vs. Boca Juniors
The Super Derby, or Superclasico, features two teams from Buenos Aires, Argentina: River Plate (Angel Labruna, 317 goals), who abandoned their working-class roots and moved to the fancy north end of town in 1925, and Boca Juniors (Martin Palermo, 236 goals), who still play down by the docks of La Boca.
Easily, this could be the No. 1 rivalry on our list. It’s been one of the most competitive over the years, with Boca holding a slight 91-83-85 edge at press time. And it’s arguably the most violent, as far as the fans and their behaviour are concerned. If you’re into red cards and general chaos, then River Plate vs Boca Juniors should rank in first as far as your personal best soccer rivalries go.
2. Celtic vs. Rangers
The schisms that led to the rivalries listed above pale in comparison to the Old Firm. Glasgow is home to the top two teams in Scottish soccer, with Celtic (Jimmy McGrory, 522 goals) drawing support from the Irish part of town, and Rangers (Jimmy Smith, 381 goals) representing the native Scots – although it’s way more complicated than that.
Since their first clash in 1888, Rangers have managed to eke out a 169-102-165 lead over their bitter rivals, but their liquidation in 2012 put this derby on hold for three years. Some even refuse to acknowledge the new Rangers as the same club. That’s why we’ve chosen a different rivalry for our No. 1 spot.
1. Barcelona vs. Real Madrid
There’s nothing better than the original: El Clasico. The soccer world stops every time Barcelona (Lionel Messi, 672 goals) and Real Madrid (Cristiano Ronaldo, 450 goals) lock horns in Spain’s Primera Division – or even better, at the Champions League, where they’ve met four times – including three semifinal matchups, with Real advancing in 1960 and 2002, and Barca in 2011. They went on to win the final all three times.
If you know about the divide between the Catalans (Barcelona being their capital) and the rest of the country, you’ll have at least some sense of what’s driving this rivalry. Otherwise, imagine how Montreal Canadiens supporters felt about the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1950s. Now dial that hatred up to 11.
For the most part, the other rivalries on our list have abated somewhat now that the class differences between the two sides have been reduced – as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. But the ongoing Catalonian independence movement keeps this particular rivalry burning bright.
Let’s hope it stays that way – at least on the pitch. Real Madrid have dominated El Clasico for a while now, thanks in part to the financial troubles Barcelona fell into during the late 2010s. However, Barca still hold the lifetime edge 123-64-108, and they appear to have righted the ship since Xavi, their former star midfielder, took over as club manager in 2021.
In terms of pure quality of play and domestic trophies, the El Clasico can rank nowhere but no.1 in the list of the best soccer rivalries in the game.
There’s even an El Clasico rivalry brewing between their respective women’s clubs, thanks to the formation of Real Madrid Femenino in 2020. FC Barcelona Femeni (est. 1988) have a considerable head start here, but the gap between the two is narrowing, as is the gap in popularity between men’s and women’s soccer.
Have Barcelona done enough to keep the El Clasico rivalry No. 1 on our list? Check out our soccer odds page at Bodog Sportsbook to see how all these teams measure up in their quest for glory.