After their first league defeat of 2023 it is time for Barcelona to focus on the Copa del Rey as they travel to the Spanish capital for the first leg of their semi-final tie against Real Madrid in the latest edition of El Clásico.
Barça are coming off a tough loss to Almería and got more bad injury news during the week, but they still have to find a way to get a good result at the Santiago Bernabéu and stay alive ahead of next month’s decisive second leg at Camp Nou.
Barça dominated El Clásico in the Spanish Super Cup final back in January but are in poor form and full of key injuries against a Madrid team hungry for revenge, and this should be a brutal challenge for the Catalans. Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops on Thursday.
Xavi has very little to work with with three key players out with injury and a squad clearly tired and lacking depth. If it was any other opponent, this Cup semi-final first leg would be the chance to rest some important players. But it’s Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, so rotations go out the window.
The “BACK” quartet dominated the Super Cup final and is the most logical choice for the defensive line in this one, with Ronald Araujo at right-back to deal with Vinicius Junior’s threat on the wing. Alejandro Balde has always played well in El Clásico, and Jordi Alba and Marcos Alonso are playing too poorly to deserve a chance at left-back.
Pedri remains out with injury but there is optimism he could return for the league trip to San Mamés two Sundays from now, but the Spanish magician will not be back for this one. Pablo Torre made a strong case to earn more minutes with his performance at the weekend, but the youngster will remain on the bench for a game of this magnitude.
There is very little doubt Xavi will stick with the four-midfielder system, but Pedri’s absence puts pressure on Franck Kessie to play at his best alongside Sergio Busquets, Frenkie De Jong and Gavi. De Jong is in serious need of a rest and could be replaced by Sergi Roberto, but the most likely outcome is another start for the Dutchman.
Robert Lewandowski’s injury was a massive blow ahead of this one, but the good news is the Pole’s hamstring strain won’t keep him out for too long. Reports say he’ll be back in 10 days or so, a relief for a Barça team facing three crucial league matches, including El Clásico at Camp Nou, before the international break.
But they’ll be without their top scorer for this one, and with Ansu Fati unlikely to feature with his knee injury there is only one option left at striker in Ferran Torres, who has played well enough recently to at least offer some hope of a competent replacement for Lewy. Raphinha will be on the right, and he’ll need to be a huge creative spark if Barça have any hopes of getting anything from the game.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; De Jong, Busquets, Kessie; Raphinha, Ferran, Gavi (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!