After a two-week international break full of drama and highlighted by dominating performances from Barcelona players, club football is back to the races. The La Liga race remains tighter than ever as league leaders Atlético Madrid lost 1-0 to Sevilla last night. That loss means a win against Real Valladolid brings Barcelona one point off the top of the table. Given that they were once 14 points away from Atlético, this is a testament to Barcelona’s incredible form.
The league is in their hands: If Barcelona win all their remaining ten games, they win the league. Granted, they do need to play both Madrid sides.
Real Valladolid are three points off a relegation spot and will have a tough-out against Barcelona in the Camp Nou. They are also missing various players due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, there are certain precautions that the Blaugrana must exercise, and playing with your club after a two-week hiatus is never easy. It could take a while for the team to get into rhythm, but they must get off to an alert start.
In goal, none other than Marc-Andre ter Stegen is expected to start. He had the misfortune of being in goal during Germany’s shocking 2-1 defeat to Macedonia in the World Cup Qualifying, so he will hope to return with a clean sheet.
Ronald Koeman will almost assuredly line up with a three-man backline, something that has helped Barcelona turn their season around in the last few months. As such, he will likely opt for Oscar Mingueza, Clement Lenglet, and Frenkie De Jong. Ronald Araújo may not yet be ready to play a full match and will likely start on the bench.
Mingueza has been extremely solid in the back, dominant with his tackling and using his physical attributes to the fullest. Lenglet has had a shaky season thus far but he has picked things up playing alongside two other centre-backs.
Frenkie de Jong played every minute of Netherlands’ World Cup qualifiers, totalling four games in nine days. He is also one yellow card away from a one-match suspension, and with a big game against Real Madrid next week, he would not want to miss it. Nevertheless, Koeman knows de Jong’s importance to the squad and he will likely start in the libero role.
Filling in the two central midfield positions will be the ever-reliable Sergio Busquets, who has had a renaissance as of late, and Pedri, Barça’s crown-jewel. Both midfielders starred for Spain over the break and played brilliantly.
Busquets has reminded fans of his importance and quality with his performances over the last few months. Playing in front of three centre backs has surely helped, but the 32-year old remains as invaluable as ever.
Pedri has also taken the world by storm and will be looking to ride his red-hot form into this match.
Sergi Roberto was recently declared as match-fit and while he may not start the game, it’s probable he will play a role off the bench.
On the flanks, Sergiño Dest and Jordi Alba will likely start. The two have been nothing short of sensational playing as wing-backs, marauding up and down the wings and being decisive in the final third. Dest is coming off solid performances with the United States National team, including scoring a brilliant goal. He also scored twice against Real Sociedad in Barça’s last game.
Alba has been one of Barcelona’s best players all season and will look to wreak havoc against Valladolid. His fifteen goal contributions (five goals, ten assists) rank third in the squad, and he tallied three assists for Spain over the break.
Filling in the final three spots will likely be Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, and none other than Lionel Messi.
Dembele and Griezmann were crucial for France over the break. In fact, other than one own-goal, the two accounted for all of France’s goals. Griezmann scored twice, including a stunner against Ukraine, and Dembele scored once against Kazakhstan. It was Dembele’s first time playing for the national team since November 2018, and he returned with a bang. The two will look to continue their goal-scoring runs against Valladolid.
The South American Football Confederation cancelled their World Cup qualifiers over the break due to concerns over COVID-19, so Messi was given a much-needed two week rest. The Argentine has been in immaculate form in 2021, tallying 19 goals and eight assists in 19 appearances.
On a cautious note, Messi finds himself in the same situation as de Jong. He is only one-yellow card away from a one-match suspension and will be crucial against Real Madrid next week. Will playing without Leo be a good decision though?
Dembele · Messi · Griezmann
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · · Dest
Lenglet · de Jong · Mingueza
As aforementioned, Ronald Araújo and Sergi Roberto will likely come off the bench. Furthermore youngsters Ilaix Moriba, Francisco Trincao, and Riqui Puig could make appearances too.
Preview: Barcelona’s strongest XI against Real Madrid
The title race is well and truly wide open. With Atletico Madrid still leaking points and Real Madrid trying to cope up with the tight schedule the Champions League brings with it, Barcelona would hope to be the favourites.
Barcelona travels to Madrid to face a team missing some big names. Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane, Eden Hazard and Daniel Carvajal all miss out on the decisive clash. Nevertheless, if Los Blancos‘ performance against Liverpool is anything to go by, El Clasico will be a battle to remember. Meanwhile, Barcelona will once again have the services of Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
The result on Saturday will count for so much in the title race. In this creme-de-la-creme of clashes, here is how Barcelona could lineup against Real Madrid.
Marc Andre ter Stegen is always the first name on the list for Ronald Koeman. At the Alfredo de Stefano, the German wall will don the gloves and aim to keep the Madrid attack at bay.
Gerard Pique finds himself back in the Squad, however, it seems unlikely he will be given a start considering lack of match fitness. The three-man defence system has worked wonders for the Catalans, and Koeman will not look to change the system. A trio of Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, and Clement Lenglet could possibly start on Saturday.
Oscar Mingueza has been rock solid and on a constant rise. With every passing game, the youngster’s confidence grows, and so does the performance. Meanwhile, Clement Lenglet had a tremendous game against Real Valladolid, hardly placing a foot wrong. The Frenchman finally looks to be hitting his stride. Ronald Araujo is fit and ready to start once again and will have to be the leader on the field on the night.
The midfield is where the game will be won or lost for Barcelona. The hosts boast of one of the most fearsome trios in midfield, who reiterated their greatness against Liverpool midweek.
Up against Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, it will be crucial for Frenkie de Jong to start in midfield. The Dutchman is one of the best in the business in controlling the tempo of the midfield.
The No.21 will be accompanied by Barcelona’s veteran maestro Sergio Busquets. Busquets will account for so much of controlling the midfield. Moreover, his distribution and defensive contributions will be invaluable.
Pedri will complete the midfield alongside the others. The recently internationally capped Spaniard will have to be on the top of his game at the di Stefano. He will be the fulcrum of Barcelona’s creative outlet.
Sergino Dest did face stagnation in performance last month. In the last few games, however, there has been a resurgence. The USMNT fullback has been more lively than ever in attack and has been completing take-one for fun. It will be crucial for him to exploit the right-wing on the night.
Jordi Alba will unsurprisingly continue to start at left wing-back. With Real Madrid being weakened at right-back, Alba will have his chance on a platter to once again come up trumps.
Ousmane Dembele has often been Koeman’s go-to option as a central player in the new formation. Once again, a two-man forward line could see the Frenchman return to duties in the front line.
Lionel Messi had a relatively quiet game against Valladolid, his first one in 2021. However, he will look to step up on the biggest stage in El Clasico, as he always does. The Argentine has been at the peak of his powers this year, and he could inspire the side to another title with a great game tonight.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Araujo · Mingueza
Antoine Griezmann, who recently welcomed his third child, will be more motivated than ever to return to his peak powers. The Frenchman undoubtedly has a celebration or two in store for the latest member of his family and will hunt for a chance to showcase it on Saturday.
Fransisco Trincao could come on for Ousmane Dembele late in the second half to bring in fresh legs. His intricate dribbling could prove invaluable on the night.
Ilaix Moriba could be utilized to ramp up the pressure in the midfield, while Riqui Puig is bound to get a few minutes as well.