There’s a very good chance that both Barcelona and Real Madrid will be playing a variation of a 4-4-2 system as el Clásico kicks off this weekend. That’s something we haven’t seen for a while, and sure to play a role.
To be more precise, both teams will probably be playing something like a 4-1-3-2 rather than a “flat” 4-4-2. Ernesto Valverde has the option of going 4-3-3 with a winger instead of an extra midfielder, but most think he will repeat the system that drew 1-1 against Valencia.
For Barcelona, Sergio Busquets will play in a defensive role with Andrés Iniesta, Paulinho, and Ivan Rakitić ahead of him. For Real, Casemiro will be holding with Luka Modrić, Isco, and Toni Kroos ahead.
However, there are differences in the qualities of each player. Busquets is very much a passer and one that facilitates building from the back, Casemiro is more like a classical destroyer.
Isco is there as a #10, to play through balls, dribble, and score. Paulinho is very different; he is known for his late runs, his physicality, and his industry.
Kroos and Modrić help Real keep balance as they are both good passers and do a good job defending. Andrés Iniesta can no longer provide the same level of defensive stability but his passing and dribbling is invaluable, while Rakitić is more of an all-arounder.
The 4v4 midfield suggests a “straight up” matchup between the players. That is to say, Paulinho vs. Casemiro, Isco vs. Busquets, Iniesta vs. Modrić, Rakitić vs. Kroos. Of course, in a team match you won’t have true one-on-one battles for 90 minutes, and surely both coaches will be ready to make tactical switches anyway.
However, it’ll be interesting to see whether Real Madrid - who surely have the more heralded midfield on paper - can get the better of Barça, or whether the Catalans have made sufficient progress to surpass Los Blancos.