El Clásico is almost here! Real Madrid and Barcelona are getting set to do battle at the Santiago Bernabéu with the La Liga title on the line, and the hype is getting bigger. This really looks like a title match, and if Barça don't get three points, they'll probably finish second this season.
The tactics matter a lot for this game, so let's take a look at how both teams are likely to line up on Sunday:
It's a big game, so Zinedine Zidane doesn't have any doubts. We already know Real Madrid's Gala XI: Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are the men who usually start the big matches, and there won't be any major changes to this team on Sunday.
The only change is Pepe, who misses out with injury. Raphaël Varane is also out, so the only center-back left is Nacho, who has performed well in recent games. Nacho isn't the best defender ever, and Barça will try to exploit him, but he's a solid player and has Zidane's confidence to do the job and play well.
Other than that, nothing else is changed. Gareth Bale will start, but if Zidane decides to do a little trick, then Isco and Lucas Vázquez are the possible starters. It'll probably be BBC up front, though.
Predicted XI: Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Nacho, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
We still have no idea if Neymar is playing or not, but just so I don't go completely crazy, I'll assume he's OUT and will try to imagine a team without him. The natural thing would be to put Paco Alcácer in his place, but I'm not too sure if Luis Enrique trusts Alcácer for a Clásico, and since the 4-3-3 formation doesn't help the current setup of the team, we could see something a little different.
Yes, you guessed it: the 3-3-1-3 that worked wonders until Rafinha Alcântara was injured and destroyed the whole system. The only time this formation worked without Rafinha was against Sevilla, when Barça played really well with Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitic alternating spots on the right side of the formation. Javier Mascherano should be fit to start this one, and given the fact that Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti just can't be dropped, the three center-backs will most likely play together on Sunday.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta will probably start again. Iniesta played the whole 90 minutes against Juventus and hasn't started in two consecutive games this season, but there's no chance he won't play El Clásico from the beginning, especially since we don't have any good midfielders on the bench. Sergi Roberto was fantastic the last time Barça played at the Bernabéu, and he could be in a similar position as well.
So who replaces Neymar? Jordi Alba is the best possible answer if Barça play with three at the back. Sammy Umtiti will give him enough cover on the left to allow him to bomb forward, and he's much better tracking back than Paco Alcácer, which is good against Carvajal and Bale/Vázquez/Isco.
Up front, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez will basically play as two strikers, but Leo will be free to move wherever he wants and Suárez will be tasked with giving Ramos and Nacho enough problem on his own so Messi can find some spaces between Casemiro and the back line.
This seems like a little defensive for a Barça formation (it's basically a 3-5-2), but we'll only win the game if we control the ball, and having so many good passing players all around the pitch is the best option for me. Basically we should Pep the eff out of this game to have a chance.
Predicted XI: Ter Stegen; Mascherano, Piqué, Umtiti; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi; Roberto, Suárez, Alba
Who do you think starts for Barça in El Clásico, Barça fans? Comment below!