Despite losing out on two points in the dying minutes against Granada, Barcelona did not have to compromise on their position in the league thanks to other results going their way. However, Real Madrid continued their dominant run with a 4-1 win over Valencia and extended their lead over their arch-rivals to a whopping 17 points.
The two giants of Spain have been on different gears this season. While Barcelona has struggled to cope with departures and injuries, Los Blancos have dominated the league with only an occasional stumble.
Though there is a certain tilt towards the Madrid based side in terms of recent form, history is witness that anything can happen when these two sides face off. And that will happen once again on Wednesday when the arch-rivals face off in Saudi Arabia to secure a place in the finals of the Spanish Super Cup.
1. Uncertainty is the only certainty for Xavi
Since his appointment as the manager for the club he grew up in, Xavi is yet to have a fully fit squad at his disposal. Pedri, Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite are just a few of the names that he has not been able to call up even once so far.
In more recent news, Eric Garcia’s hamstring injury has ruled him out of action for over a month. Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong, who suffered injuries against Linares, are both yet to receive medical clearance but have travelled with the team.
Moreover, Pedri and Ferran Torres have been given the medical approval as well, and make a late trip to Riyadh, but with questions about his involvement.
Close to 30 hours before kickoff, the coach is still yet to have a clear picture of the lineup he will use. What makes it more challenging is that several of the players on the fence are a vital part of the side.
Amidst this uncertainty, it will be a big test for Xavi to put out a lineup that not only works but puts up an end to end tactical battle on the field.
2. The right-back position
Real Madrid’s attack has grown into a monstrous combination this season. Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. have owned La Liga’s goalscoring charts, with a combined total of goals higher than Barcelona’s tally this campaign.
Over the past two Clasicos, the Catalans have witnessed the extent of damage that the Brazilian is capable of wrecking on his day. Vinicius has not only tormented Oscar Mingueza and Sergino Dest but has been a thorn for the entire Barcelona defence.
Only Ronald Araujo could control his speed and agility the previous time the two sides met. However, his availability on Wednesday is unsure.
Given Real Madrid’s potent weapon on the wing, Xavi choice of selection at right-back becomes all-the-more crucial. While Dani Alves has had a sensational restart to life at Barcelona, his deployment at the position could backfire on the night. Against his compatriot, Alves’s age and lack of pace could come back to bit the team.
Oscar Mingueza continues to be shaky in his appearances this season, especially when deployed at wing-back. Moreover, the ghosts of the last time he faced Vinicius will still be fresh in his mind. The final option is Sergino Dest, who has not been a significant part of Xavi’s set-up so far and could hinder the synergy.
The choice the Barcelona manager makes for the right-back position will undoubtedly play a massive role in deciding the end outcome.
3. The midfield muddle
Pedri and Frenkie de Jong are two undisputed starters who will likely be unavailable in Saudi Arabia. While Pedri has just recovered from COVID and his injury, the Dutch midfielder is recovering from an injury and has been included in the squad without medical clearance.
Gavi and Nico will likely partner Sergio Busquets in midfield, but there is a sentiment that the trio will be dominated by the opposition’s midfield on the night.
Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are amongst the most successful players of all time in their departments. Being overshadowed by them is in no way a matter of shame.
Gavi’s tenacity and Nico ball control and progression are both irreplaceable parts of their game. However, neither of them have shown to be able to control the tempo of the game, hold onto the ball and dictate its flow based on the requirement. It is a skillset Barcelona has seen in Pedri and one that the team has desperately lacked since his injury.
The presence of a player who could increase or decrease the speed of circulation and distribution comes in very handy against experienced and older midfielders.
Unfortunately, Barcelona will miss that on Wednesday, and that said, will be forced to play second fiddle for large parts of the game. It remains to be seen if Xavi can pull off a tactical masterstroke to reverse the expected situation.