The week before El Clasico always throws up drama which SpainThe two biggest sides prepare for the biggest game of the domestic calendar.
Preparation for Saturday’s meeting at BarcelonaThe Montjuic stadium was characterized by whether Real madrid President Florentino Perez would be present after several setbacks between the clubs. On Thursday evening, it was confirmed that he would not travel to Catalonia for the third game in a row.
El Clasico: Exciting week between Real Madrid and Barcelona will not change their alliance
In football, much has been made of which players return from injury. Jude Bellingham confirmed he would be available for the Clasico in a television interview on Thursday after suffering groin discomfort in midweek in Madrid. The Champions League game against Braga, while Barca surprised everyone when five of their six players – Peter, Frenkie de Jong, Robert Lewandowski, Jules Conde and Raphinha — took part in practice on Friday morning.
Madrid could cement their grip on the top spot with a win and Barca have the chance to leapfrog their rivals, at least temporarily. So, how will each side line up? AthleticBarcelona and Real Madrid writers discuss.
Mario Cortegana (Real Madrid writer): The first Clasico of the season — finally! I like to talk about something more football related after the institutional tension of the last few days.
Guillermo Rai (Real Madrid writer): Agree! Even if Toni Kroos said in his podcast that three points at this stage don’t mean so much, this game is always a decisive moment because it can give either team a lot of confidence.
Pol Ballus (Barcelona writer): Injuries have been a hot topic at Barcelona this week. Xavi said in his press conference that he would play absent “if they tell me they are 100 percent”. You were there Laia, did you think any of the injured squad could start tomorrow?
Laia Cervello Herrero (Barcelona writer): Xavi seemed genuinely optimistic in his presser when he said that all injured players could be included; not many saw it coming. But it would not make sense for players who have been out for months, such as Pedri, to rush back into a game as tense as El Clasico. Other than him, I don’t think any of them will start.
Goalkeepers and defense
Mario: There is no doubt about it Kepa Arrizabalagaplace in the goal. In defense it is difficult to object Dani Carvajal at right back after the Spaniard’s fine start to the season. Antonio Rudiger has been decent too and has been Madrid’s best defender this season.
Guillermo: Eder MilitaoChronic anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries make it pretty straightforward on defense – except at left back. Ferland Mendy only played 20 minutes against Braga as Carlo Ancelotti rested him and I think he will start there. Ancelotti likes Eduardo Camavinga in that position but Mendy is stronger defensively. The Italian told his press conference today (Friday) that Mendy has “an advantage because he has been rested in the Champions League”.
Mario: Reports in Spain today said Mendy would start and Camavinga would be benched. I have heard people at Valdebebas, Madrid’s training ground, and they say Camavinga is likely to be a substitute.
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Guillermo: I’ve spoken to Mendy’s entourage and they think he’ll start, given the midweek substitutions – but with Ancelotti you never know. We said the same thing when Madrid traveled to Girona last month and Camavinga started there.
pole: The biggest talking point in terms of Barca’s line-up is in defence: with João Cancelo in the team, Xavi still uses Ronald Araujo which Vinicius Junior’s kryptonite at right back or is he relying on his Portuguese summer loan from Manchester City?
Laia: Leaving Cancelo on the bench is a risk in terms of player management and dressing room harmony. We know how Disgruntled Cancelo became at City when he didn’t play. But given his poor errors on the ball in recent games, I see him in a longer role – more like a winger. That would leave the right back position for Araujo, where the center backs are Andreas Christensen and Inigo Martinezand Alejandro Balde at left back.
pole: Xavi seemed to heavily hint at this in his press conference. He insisted Barca needed to minimize the number of times they lost the ball in the build-up and said they needed to coordinate their high pressing and recovery better. This is the weakest aspect of Cancelo’s game; he is a force in attack but he has flaws in defense.
You only have to look at their last game in midweek against Shakhtar Donetsk to see how Cancelo was completely out of touch with the goal Barca conceded. The team’s outstanding defensive record last season was largely down to playing with an extra center back at right back. What they lost in creativity they gained in defense – and Xavi wants to regain that ahead of the Clasico.
Laia: Barca have two options here: the conservative one and the brave one.
The cautious approach would be to start Oriol Romeu, Xavi’s only central defender, and try to create a system that protects him. A dangerous choice would be to take the chance Fermin Lopez. This would include Ilkay Gundogan fall back into a central defensive role and rely on GiftFermin and Joe Felix to unite in an attack.
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pole: The way Fermin has come into the team has been impressive and he took his goal against Shakhtar well, but I don’t think Xavi will drop Romeu for him. Romeu has been far from his best and opponents are targeting him as Barca’s weak point, but I expect Xavi to save Fermin as a potential game-changer from the bench.
Mario: Midfield was where Madrid lost the tie in Madrid last month – Ancelotti started with five players in that position – but I think the manager has learned his lesson.
I expect Ancelotti to start Aurelien Tchouameni, as Madrid have not lost a game since the Frenchman has been involved since the start of this season. The team is more balanced with him and Toni Kroos, who brings the knowledge that the younger players don’t have. Federico Valverde is Ancelotti’s second pillar while Bellingham is undisputed and has been Madrid’s best player so far this season. What do you think, Guillermo?
Guillermo: It would be more interesting for the reader if we disagreed, so unfortunately, I agree with you 100 percent. The big change for Madrid this season has been the arrival of Bellingham and his role as the number 10 at the top of Ancelotti’s midfield diamond: 11 goals in 12 games for the Englishman goes without saying.
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Mario: Full credit to Carlo!
Guillermo: The big innovation has been that Tchouameni strengthened his position in the middle. That’s why Ancelotti can drop Camavinga in a game of this magnitude.
Laia: If Cancelo plays as a right winger, Barca would only have two available spots in attack. That would mean Yamal will miss out despite his good performances this season.
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pole: One of those places has to be for Joao Felix given how well he has played since joining Atletico Madrid on loan. Then it’s either Ferran Torres or Lewandowski, with Yamal playing a similar impact role to Fermin off the bench.
Of the injured players, Lewandowski is clearly the player with the best chance of starting. His injury is not a muscle problem and he has not been sidelined for as long as Frenkie de Jong. But his camp says he is not guaranteed to start. If I had to guess, I’d say Torres starts.
Mario: Before Madrid’s win against Braga, I didn’t see Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo start together from the front — given poor form of the latter. But after Josela sat out the game with flu-like symptoms and Rodrygo’s goal – his first since the opening weekend of the season – makes sense for him to play. Having said that, both he and Joselu are excellent options to follow Vinicus Jr, who appears to be back to his best after returning from injury.
Guillermo: The other debate at Madrid – apart from who should start at left-back – was whether Ancelotti should leave Rodrygo out of the starting line-up. But a coach should always focus on younger players like Rodrygo and having Josela as a substitute in the second half is not a bad thing.
How do you think each side will line up?
pole: At Madrid, the main doubt seems to be at left back, but Ancelotti seems to trust Camavinga more than Mendy in big games. It also solves another problem for him as it opens up a spot for another midfielder in the team. Luka Modric will be back on the bench as he is far from his best and Ancelotti will continue to trust the structure they have built so far.
Laia: I see Madrid playing with four midfielders in a regular diamond formation to control the center of the park and avoid giving Barca space.
Mario: Barca’s XI is hard to predict given the doubts they have in their squad. Based on what I’ve read and what Xavi said in his press conference today, I think it could be something like this…
Guillermo: Despite the injuries, Barca have one of the biggest benches in the league La Liga and will have no problem fielding a competitive XI. If everyone recovers in time, I see Xavi’s side lining up like this…
pole: I think it will be an open game; Barcelona have become a more creative side this season with Cancelo and Joao Felix, but the vulnerability they have shown means Madrid will have chances in the box… 2-2.
Laia: Both teams will want to control the game, but I see it ending 1-0 to Barca with a Joao Felix goal.
Guillermo: I don’t want to do it, but I predict a game with lots of goals that will end with a 3-1 victory for Madrid.
Mario: That’s very optimistic! I’m going to say 2-1 with a goal from Ronald Araujo for Barcelona, two assists from Vinicius Jr, a goal from Rodrygo — and one from Bellingham, of course.
Guillermo: Who else?
(Top photos: Getty Images)
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