Barcelona are still trying to pick up the pieces after the tragedy of Wednesday night against Inter Milan, but there’s no time to recover as another gigantic game is right around the corner: El Clásico is this Sunday, with Barça traveling to the Spanish capital to face Real Madrid in a massive top of the table clash.
Unless there’s an unprecedented miracle ahead of us, Barça will go to the Europa League for the second straight season which will make winning La Liga almost an obligation after the continental embarrassing. Only the trophy will truly save this season, and this Sunday’s clash will go a long way in telling us whether or not Barça can win it.
The Blaugrana are top of the league on goal difference after eight unbeaten games and seven straight wins, and they will leave the Santiago Bernabéu in first place if they avoid defeat. But the midweek disaster and Madrid’s form make this a very difficult task, and Barça will have to show enormous mental strength and character to get a good result in this one. Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line his troops up in Madrid.
Barça’s defense gave a masterclass in being terrible against Inter, with mistakes leading to all three goals and a scary lack of organization even before they were playing desperately from behind.
The return of Jules Kounde from injury is a massive boost, and the Frenchman is expected to be ready to start after taking place in all training sessions before the match. The question is whether or not Kounde will play in the right-back spot that he occupied before getting injured, and if he does then Gerard Piqué will once again partner Eric García.
Starting Piqué just three days after a horrible showing against Inter does not seem like the best idea, however, so it’s highly likely that we’ll see Kounde alongside Eric in the heart of the defense, with Sergi Roberto on the right and Alejandro Balde on the left.
Sergio Busquets is set to join Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos as the players with the most appearances in this historic rivalry, but there’s a very strong argument that the captain shouldn’t be anywhere near the team in big games after another reminder against Inter of how much his age and declining defensive skills can cost the side when it matters most.
But it’s impossible not to see Busquets in the side in El Clásico, with Pedri once again playing alongside the captain in the middle of the park. Frenkie de Jong should start this one, with Gavi having the chance to be an impact player off the bench. De Jong, Gavi and Pedri should really be the midfield trio right now, but it seems as though Busquets won’t be touched until he goes to Major League Soccer.
Ousmane Dembélé and Robert Lewandowski were definitely not to blame against Inter and gave their all, scoring Barça’s three goals and trying as hard as they could to produce a miracle in the dying seconds on Wednesday night.
The two should start in this one, and Lewandowski will no doubt be hungry to score in his first competitive Clásico. The only doubt is who starts on the other wing, with Raphinha deserving of keeping his spot after his strong showing against Inter. But Ansu Fati continues to knock on the door, and it would be a good thing for Xavi to show faith in his young phenom and give him a chance to make his mark in the biggest game of all.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Eric, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Ansu 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!