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Araujo returns, Alves starts in a 4-3-3: How Barcelona could line up against Real Madrid

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Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona head into the Real Madrid clash on the weekend in high spirits after qualifying for the Europa League quarterfinals after defeating Galatasaray in midweek.

The last time the two sides met was in the Supercup Espana. It was only Xavi’s 12th game in charge of Barcelona, and they crumbled 2-3 despite putting up a very competitive performance.

Two months since that game, Barça have only lost one game, and are currently unbeaten in 11 games. During this time, the team has climbed up the charts in La Liga as well, sitting third, just five points shy of Sevilla. That too with a game in hand.

Carlo Ancelotti could not hold back the praise for Xavi either, saying, “The identity of their team does not change, Barcelona have a very clear style of play. Xavi embodies this style, he is doing very well. Their team has improved a lot.”

While undoubtedly in tremendous form, there are question marks over Barcelona’s fitness given the jampacked schedule. This will be their fifth games in 15 days before the international break hits.

Ideally, after a gruesome trip to Istanbul, Xavi would have rotated his key players for this clash. But as it happens to be El Clasico, expect the best starting XI tomorrow night.

The starters

Starting in midfield, we expect no changes. Pedri showed his magic once again vs Galatasaray, and will start alongside Frenkie de Jong in the middle of the park. Sergio Busquets will act as the anchor donning the captain’s armband.

In attack, there are little to no doubts over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s place, who is averaging a goal every 88 minutes. The striker has been, in Xavi’s own words, “a gift from the skies”, and it is very difficult to disagree with him.

After playing a rather defensive game in the last Clasico, Madrid are expected to start the game on the front foot at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ferran Torres is a player who can exploit the kind of space that might be on offer in Madrid, and should start at the left-wing.

After a passive outing vs Galatasaray, Adama Traore could be benched for Ousmane Dembele on the right-wing. The Frenchman assisted two goals vs Osasuna last weekend, and come off the bench to huge impact in midweek.

Dembele is a must for this game. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

The last line of defence, as Xavi prefers it, will be a four-man backline consisting of veteran full-backs Dani Alves and Jordi Alba. Sergino Dest could have been with in a shout at the right-back to take on Vinicius Jr. but picked up a hamstring injury in the Europa League.

Ronald Araujo was benched for Eric Garcia, but it is clear that the defensive discrepancy between the two is too vast for the latter to get the nod in such a crucial game. The Uruguayan will likely partner Gerard Pique in the heart of the defence.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen needs to play the game of his life in goal despite the absence of Karim Benzema. The German has let the team down on way too many occasions this season, and any misstep could harm their entire season.

Predicted Barça XI:

ter Stegen
Alves · Araujo · Pique · Alba
Pedri · Busquets · de Jong
Dembele · Aubameyang · Torres

The bench

Gavi is a sure-shot presence off the bench at this point in case he does not start. He could come on as an interior, or even as a left-winger to add more control to the midfield.

Memphis Depay has shown a lot of determination and grit every time he has come on as a substitute in the recent weeks. Not only does he have two goals, but helps close out game with his pressing and hold-up play.

One of Clement Lenglet or Eric Garcia could be subbed in to add defensive depth in the final stages of the game, especially if Xavi decides to shift to a five-man backline.

On the contrary, Luuk de Jong and/or Adama Traore are expected to be brought in if Barcelona are chasing the game.

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