Barcelona don’t have much time to celebrate their hard-fought Spanish Super Cup semi-final win on penalties against Real Betis on Thursday as they have a short turnaround and very little time to prepare for a massive El Clásico against Real Madrid on Sunday with the first title of the Spanish season on the line.
Both teams needed 120 minutes and penalties to reach this point, but Madrid had an extra day of rest which could prove an advantage for Carlo Ancelotti’s men. But form and fitness go out the window in a Final, especially with two giant rivals facing off with a trophy at stake.
Neither of these sides is setting the world on fire right now but they almost always play very open, entertaining matches and no one can be considered the favorite. Here’s how we think Barça will line up on Sunday.
Because Barça have a Copa del Rey tie against a Third Division side next week and Xavi was always going to rest his starters in that game, there’s zero reason to believe he’ll make any rotations on Sunday. It’s all hands on deck and the best possible team to face Los Blancos.
At the back, Jules Kounde is expected to start at right-back to deal with Vinicius Junior, and Andreas Christensen has been playing so well lately that he deserves to start this one. Alejandro Balde might get the nod over Jordi Alba at left-back, and the only real doubt is whether Ronald Araujo starts a fourth game in a row in 10 days having just come back from injury.
If the Uruguayan doesn’t go Marcos Alonso or Eric García will partner Christensen, unless Xavi decides to bring Kounde into the middle and start Sergi Roberto at full-back. With no injuries and plenty of depth at the back there are plenty of possible combinations, but the one I think makes the most sense sees Kounde on the right, Balde on the left and Araujo with Christensen in the middle.
Pedri was fantastic against Betis and was involved in everything good Barça did before the team collapsed in the second half thanks to Xavi’s poor substitutions. Pedri always shows up in big games and has a knack for playing well against Madrid, so there’s no doubt he’ll be in the lineup for this one.
Sergio Busquets certainly starts as he always does in big games, and the third spot in midfield will be between Frenkie De Jong and Gavi. There’s always a chance all four start together like they did against Atlético Madrid, but I think Xavi will go with a classic 4-3-3 and pick Frenkie over Gavi for more control in midfield.
There is no doubt about Barça’s current front three based on form: Ousmane Dembélé, Robert Lewandowski and Ansu Fati are the undisputed starters right now, and Fati continues to produce even in limited minutes and really deserves to start a game of this magnitude.
Raphinha would be the other option on the wing if Xavi decides to stick with Ansu as a super sub, and Ferran Torres is too inconsistent to be trusted right now. Memphis Depay’s future is up in the air and he hasn’t done much to deserve a bigger role anyway, so the front three really picks itself for Sunday.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Fati (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Real Madrid? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!