Over the next 40 days, fans will be treated to as many as three El Clasico encounters with Barcelona and Real Madrid set to battle it out on two fronts, starting from tomorrow’s Copa del Rey semi-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The last time Barcelona made the trip to the Bernabeu, they were humbled 3-1 by Carlo Ancelotti’s side. But, Xavi Hernandez’s team were able to exact revenge and do so in style, beating Los Blancos in the finals of the Spanish Super Cup.
However, things have taken a turn since then, with Barça going into Thursday’s match on the back of two losses and without three of their most important players in Pedri, Ousmane Dembele, and Robert Lewandowski.
So, Xavi will have his task cut out when it comes to team selection and tactics as he looks to arrest the minor slump that Barça find themselves in before things get out of hand.
Ahead of the third El Clasico of the 2022/23 campaign, we take a look at how Barcelona could line up against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
While Xavi used Inaki Pena in the first couple of rounds in Copa del Rey, the manager quickly reverted to Marc-Andre ter Stegen as his preferred option between the sticks in the cup competition as well. And, that will not change on Thursday night against Real Madrid.
The Barcelona boss has deployed Ronald Araujo at right-back in recent Clasico clashes to silence the danger posed by Vinicius Jr and has tasted success. So, one can expect Xavi to repeat that formula again tomorrow, while Alejandro Balde slots in at left-back ahead of Jord Alba.
Jules Kounde is a certain starter in the Barça defence, but will find himself in a central position at the Bernabeu. As for his centre-back partner, Andreas Christensen is expected to feature from the get-go, despite sustaining a knock in training earlier today.
Moving into the centre of the park, Sergio Busquets is a certainty to feature at the base of the Barcelona midfield unit. The captain will be supported by in-form superstar Frenkie de Jong who will also have to share some creative burden in the absence of Pedri.
Franck Kessie, meanwhile, is likely to occupy the third slot in the centre of the park ahead of second captain Sergi Roberto, to add some tenacity and physical presence in the centre of the park.
As far as the attacking unit is concerned, Xavi does not have a lot of options due to injuries. With no Robert Lewandowski and Ansu Fati just returning from an injury, Ferran Torres becomes the obvious pick to start as the central striker for Barça against Real Madrid.
Meanwhile, Raphinha ought to take up the right flank for the Blaugrana while teenage sensation Gavi, who will be suspended for the next league game versus Valencia, should feature as the pseudo-left-winger at the Bernabeu.
Barcelona Predicted XI: ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; de Jong, Busquets, Kessie; Raphinha, Ferran, Gavi
Ansu Fati is an option that Xavi will likely turn to, in order to add more attacking spark on the pitch if needed. Jordi Alba might no longer be the first choice at left-back but could be an avenue to create chances.
Pablo Torre could also be an interesting option for Xavi to provide some creative influence from the centre in the absence of Pedri. Marcos Alonso has earned Xavi’s trust and could come in at some stage in the second half, especially with Christensen’s fitness being a matter of concern.
Youngster Angel Alarcon got some minutes against Almeria over the weekend and could see some more action on Thursday, depending on the situation of the game.