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Who Should Start in Midfield In El Clásico?

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The biggest game of the season is just around the corner but who should start in midfield for Barça?

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The midfield has become somewhat of a difficult area for Luis Enrique. In years gone by, it was the easiest position to fill, Sergio Busquets deep with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta as the attacking midfielders. But recently, accompanied with a string of injuries and Xavi's departure, Enrique has been forced to switch it up.

The number of injuries to Barça's midfield this season is quite extraordinary. Out of all the recognised midfielders, including Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets is the only one not to have missed some game time through injury this season and the club went through a spell when after every Champions League game, a midfielder would leave injured. This injury hit squad has forced Enrique to rotate more then he usually would have and the likes of Sergi Roberto have appeared at both central midfield and right-back to accommodate the absence of others.

So it seems that picking a midfield isn't as straight forward as it used to be so perhaps some stats can shed some light on who is best placed to start the Clásico.

Busquets will be key in the Clásico and his place is pretty much ensued barring any last minute injury. Some of the stats show the kind of influence he has on any given game. So far this season he has regained possession more times than anyone else besides Mascherano and has contributed 40.5% of good defensive actions.

regained possession
def

While in an attacking sense, Busquets has on average created the same amount of chances per game as Rakitić has with only Roberto and Iniesta creating more.

att

Real Madrid is a team full of pace and Busquets is key in first stopping the counterattack and then quickly distributing the ball forwards so to attack Madrid when they are unorganised.

Which brings us onto the attacking midfielders. A year ago most Barça fans would've scoffed at the idea of Roberto starting a Clásico but fast forward to today and he has been one of the star performers this year. Originally starting at right back due to Dani Alves' injury, Roberto has since moved back into his recognised midfield and put in a number of good performances there. Only Iniesta creates more chances per game and Roberto is the midfielder who has given away the ball the fewest times per game this season.

possession

Ivan Rakitić remains an injury doubt and has yet to hit the heights of last season. He has yet to register a goal or an assist in the league this year and has struggled to have a big influence on games. Even if the Croatian does pass the medical test, it seems unlikely Enrique would start him.

As usual Iniesta is the best attacking midfielder at the club. He has created the most chances per game and has had 26.4% of attacking actions in first two thirds of the pitch. Despite Iniesta being the player to lose possession most, this doesn't fairly reflect the job he does for the team. He picks up the ball in deep midfield before dribbling past one or two defenders and looking for the eye of the needle final ball. Understandably, these balls don't always reach the target which explains the loss of possession. However, having returned from injury recently, Iniesta is back in the swing of things and is in good form to start the Clásico.

attacking chances

The final midfielder to talk about is Javier Mascherano. There have been reports that Enrique may opt for both Busquets and Mascherano. Looking at the stats, this makes sense. The Argentine regains possession on average 4.5 times a game and has contributed 40.2% of good defensive approach. However, it does sacrifice some attacking creativity as Mascherano will sit deep and won't go forward looking to create chances. So playing both him and Busquets would seem a conservative approach to the game, which away at the Bernabeu is not always a bad idea.

regain possession

For me, I'd like to see a midfield three of Busquets, Roberto and Iniesta but can understand the thinking behind pushing Iniesta forward and bringing Mascherano into the midfield.

pos XI
pos XI 2

All infographics provided by SportsMatrix.