Who will play in Barça’s starting XI versus Real Madrid?

With just three days to go until El Clásico there is more speculation than usual about the starting lineup and system that Pep Guardiola will play for this crucial match. We have seen some fantastic football this season playing with a 3-4-3 formation though even Guardiola has admitted that to play a defence of three at the Bernabeu would be somewhat risky. Guardiola argued that Barça need to dominate in order for the 3-4-3 to be effective and it will be very difficult to dominate for 90 minutes against Real Madrid.

Before deciding on an XI Pep will have to balance between choosing the players who are most in form and trying to decide on the shape and system that the team are going to use. One of the most in form players is Cesc Fabregas and most people would put him into Saturday’s team, however, if we play a 4-3-3 system there is the problem of where to play him and who to leave out. Cesc has had some excellent games for us this season but his most significant contribution has been in home games when we have played 3-4-3 against Villarreal, Osasuna, Atletico Madrid and Levante, while his best performance away from home was in Milan when we also played a back three.

This for me is the really big doubt because I feel to play 4-3-3 with Cesc in the forward line we will lose our shape and to put him in midfield means we need to break up the Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta trio. Perhaps Iniesta may end up playing on the left side of attack to allocate Cesc into midfield. Whatever the case, if we allow for Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc it leaves only one other forward role for either Villa, Alexis, Pedro and Cuenca, and all of this is assuming that Thiago and Keita won’t start which knowing Pep is perhaps a silly assumption.

At the back I expect to see Mascherano and Abidal for sure, and Alves for sure if we play a back four as I believe we will. The other place will go to either Piqué or Puyol and I have to say at the moment I would prefer it to be Puyol. Pep Guardiola made a point of sharing a joke or two with Piqué on Monday while the camaras were recording training to show there is no problem between coach and player after the fifth yellow card controversy. However, I believe Mascherano must play while on current form Puyol deserves the other central defence spot.

So that gives us a back four of Alves, Mascherano, Puyol and Abidal. In front of them we should definitely play Sergio Busquets and then Xavi and Iniesta. The forward line should be Alexis on the left, and then I think Messi and Cesc could combine the false nine and wide right positions and when they both come inside Dani Alves would be encouraged to get forward as much as possible. This also allows for a pretty easy change of shape to our 3-4-3 but with Dani Alves in a forward role. This is the only way I can see to fit Fabregas into the team even if we don’t have quite the same balanced shape as usual. The alternative would be to play another forward, either Villa, Pedro or Cuenca on the other side to Alexis but then we would need to sacrifice Cesc or Iniesta, or Dani Alves as against Levante if we play three at the back.

So there we have it.

……………………………………………VALDÉS…………………………………………………

………………………MASCHERANO………..PUYOL………………………………………

..ALVES…………………………….BUSQUETS………………………….ABIDAL………..

…………………XAVI……………………………………….INIESTA……………………………

…………………………MESSI……….CESC………………………………………..ALEXIS…

Subs from: PINTO, PIQUÉ, ADRIANO, KEITA, THIAGO, CUENCA, PEDRO, VILLA

How do you think Barça will start against Real Madrid? I’m hoping for all you regulars to send a comment with your preferred starting XI. More on El Clásico tomorrow in a Talking Barça special.

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17 Responses to Who will play in Barça’s starting XI versus Real Madrid?

  1. Xavi says:

    Wow, it’s true that world cup winners like Piqué, Villa or Pedro might not start. Personally I think we could possibly even play only three in defense and that makes room for Pedro. How about this for total attack?…..

    …………………………………………Valdés……………………………………………………..
    ……………Alves……………………Mascherano……………….Puyol………………………..
    …………………..Xavi…………………Thiago…………..Iniesta…………………………….
    ………………………………………………..Fabregas………………………………………………..
    ……Pedro……………………………Messi…………………………………….Alexis………………

  2. PHaft says:

    ……………………………………………….Valdés……………………………………………………..
    ……………Alves………………….Puyol……………Mascherano…………………..Abidal…………..
    ………………………………………………………Xavi…………………………………………………………
    …………………..Fabregas…………………………………………Iniesta…………………………….
    ……VIlla……………………………Messi…………………………………….Alexis………………

    Maybe Xavi can play a bit defensive/pivot . I think this would give us the best chance to win. When Xavi ventures a bit forward, Masch can cover like a holding mid. Villa could be key….seems to save his best games against Madrid.

    Prediction: Barca 3 – 1 Madrid

  3. PHaft says:

    wow that came out messed up looking…..you know what I mean. Xavi as a false holding mid/pivot …. Masch and Puyol in central defense with Masch covering holding mid when Xavi ventures forward. Villa, Messi and Alexis up front.

  4. MikeM says:

    Wow, so many permutations and possible formations…
    Real difficult to try guess this one

    I’d reckon start with 4-3-3 and change to 3-4-3 and the game wears on

    Valdes
    Alves – Pique – Puyol – Abidal
    Xavi – Masch – Iniesta
    Messi – Villa – Sanchez

    Off the bench, Cesc, Busi and Pedro

  5. Phil T says:

    Hi, I think you have to go with experience for the big games. My team would play 4-3-3
    Valdes/Alves,Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal/ Xavi, Keita, Iniesta/Pedro,Messi,Villa.

    We will win 1-3 with goals from Messi, Villa and Keita

  6. barcacentralnic says:

    Just to move away from the Clasico for a moment, big news from the Champions League with both Manchester clubs going out. Our possible opponents in the last 16 are: Bayer Leverkusen, Marseilla, Zenit St Petersberg, Napoli, CSKA Moscow, FC Basel and Lyon. Anything can happen over two legs but none of these opponents look to be too difficult.

  7. barcacentralnic says:

    Have to say I’m surprised how nobody else has Busquets in, I think if he doesn’t play for some reason it will be Keita in his place.

  8. barcacentralnic says:

    A nice article from my Talking Barça pal Simon Harris – Never mind to be or not to be! 4-3-3 or 3-4-3? That is the question. http://community.spain-football.org/el-clasico/4-3-3-or-3-4-3-that-is-the-question-guardiola-faces

  9. FCBarca88 says:

    Valdes
    Alves-Pique-Puyol-Abidal
    Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta
    Messi-Cesc-Alexis

    I think Busquets is still underrated but people will never notice how he helps the team because they expect as a Barca player, he has to dribble past 5 people each time he has the ball, or score 4 goals a game. His anticipation of where the ball is going is amazing, and he intercepts so many passes. I would want Busquets to start but I was stuck between Keita/Busquets. I think we may need Keita cause he is more physical, and we will definitely need that against Madrid, especially cause they will play dirty. We need a player to really rape Ozil and Alonso.

    I was going to go for Mascherano instead of Pique, but I only went for Pique cause of his size. I’m kind of worried about Madrid corner and freekick, remember the copa del rey final? we can’t let them have open headers like that.

    Madrid will obviously play on the counterattack, and they are the fastest team in the world, so I hope that Pique and Puyol would stay further back than usual, not like how we usually play. They don’t need to push up until the midfield.

    I think if we control the game and just not lose the ball stupidly, we will win. Against Milan we lost the ball too much, and if we want to win, we can’t do that.

    A tie wouldnt be bad at all. yes, still a six point difference but we will definitely beat Madrid at the Camp Nou, so it’s more like a three point difference. We don’t need to take so many risks and end up losing and being nine points behind.

  10. bc9jaCulé says:

    My take on this? Simple. Our best line-up should be a seamlessly functional and flexible 4-3-3 that can tentatively switch into whatever formation whenever it’s SAFE for either Alves, Iniesta, or Xavi to drift forward.
    Like this:

    Valdez

    Alvez-Puyol-Mascherano-Abidal

    Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta

    Pedro-Messi-Alexis

    Subs: Pinto, Piqué, Fabregas, Keita, Thiago and Villa

    That’s MY best lineup for the clasico and my justification goes thus:

    Alexis on the left will find it much more easier to handle Arbeloa and cut in to create goal scoring chances while Marcelo won’t dare to attack with Pedro breathing down his neck every minute. Messi, as usual, will play the false 9 role expertly, dropping deep when necessary to make a midfield of 4 thereby making it possible for either him, Iniesta or Xavi to make a breakout on the attack whenever the chances show up. My only headache is who to play between Piqué and Mascherano. Piqué’s height is indispensable just as is Mascherano’s speed, sharpness and neat timely sliding tackles. Puyol in defence is a constant, no compromising.

    Madrid 1
    Ronaldo

    Barça 5
    Messi(3), Alexis &Pedro

    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  11. Caleb says:

    I’ll think a bit more about what the starting line up will be. While I like what you’ve put down, Nic, the one problem I see is this system seems to give Marcelo free license to attack down that left wing. Maybe he’d be hesitant to because Messi and Cesc would be left with just two defenders, but Marcelo would probably still drive forward anyway. Pepe will probably play the defensive mid-role again and drop back on Messi when this happens.

    I’m predicting either Pedro, Alexis, or Messi will be on the right. Form favors Alexis or Messi. All of these players have the defensive capabilities and speed to keep Marcelo in check when he goes forward and to give him plenty to worry about when Barca’s attacking.

    I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see a 3-4-3 like we saw against levante. Cesc, Alexis, and Messi all switching roles (to confuse Pepe when he tries to just man-mark Messi). Villa will probably be on the left, but I think I’d rather see Cuenca, because the youngster has been gold pretty much every time he’s got the green light. At the very least have him ready to go in ASAP if Villa doesn’t look like getting the job done. I also prefer Cuenca to Villa because he’s more versatile and doesn’t surrender possession as easily. I’m not sure Pedro will get much of a look because he still seems to be off his game.

    Busi, Xavi, and Iniesta seem to be a no brainer.

    I’m saying Alves/Puyol, Mascherano, and Abidal at the back. My head says Alves but my heart says Puyol.

    I guess the other way I see us going is just like Nic called it, because putting Alves in the system allows us to switch between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 rather seamlessly. The only problem is Cesc doesn’t seem to fit quite as well and I think we all want to see Cesc on the field because of his clutch goals this season.

    Basically, I don’t envy Pep’s responsibility here.

  12. barcacentralroger says:

    I too am still pondering possibilities but I better put something forward and get off the fence: I would like to see Puyol play – too many of Madrid’s goals against us over the last year have come from set pieces and I think with Puyol playing (as an out-and-out centre back all his career) we are better organised (and I too am not convinced by Pique’s current performance level). I can’t help but feel that Pep will go with a 3-4-3, and so I’d drop Alves and go with Puyol on the right; the midfield decides itself; Cesc and Messi interchanging as false nine and tens; then Sanchez and Cuenca, because both have a higher work rate then Villa (Pedro is off form), and their tracking back (particularly Sanchez) will give us cover from the fullbacks. Of course, I’d expect the front four to switch a lot, and I’d like to see Cuenca and Sancez testing their better feet against BOTH full backs. I would expect us to score one or two goals and make changes, switching back to a 4-3-3 early in the second half, giving us more cover on the flanks, with Alves coming on for Sanchez, Cesc moving into the middle and Messi drifting more to the right, with then Villa coming on for Cuenca as we sit back slightly and look for a goal against their high back line. Final substitution (barring no injuries): Keita for Cesc (or for comedy, Pique for Cesc, but then Pep confounding everyone by playing as a number nine). Final score 1-3 (or 1-4 if Pique plays as a nine), with goals from Cesc, Messi, Iniesta (and Pique) and for Di Maria for them.

    So:
    Puyol, Masch, Abidal –
    Busi, Xavi, Iniesta,
    Cesc,
    Sanchez, Messi, Cuenca

    Turning to:
    Alves, Puyol, Masch, Abidal,
    Busi, Xavi, Iniesta
    Messi, Cesc, Villa

    To:
    Alves, Puyol, Masch, Abidal,
    Busi, Xavi, Iniesta
    Messi, PIQUE!, Villa

  13. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    My favored line up will be :

    Valdes (this is a no brainer)
    Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal
    Fabregas, Busqets, Xavi, Iniesta
    Messi, Sanchez.

    With this Formation, we could experience Fabregas taking roles as Midfielder, Attacking midfielder and Striker / switching with Sanchez or Messi whenever likely. Iniesta could switch from midfielder to attacking midfielder to Left attacking midfielder / not too wide but more on duty to penetrate the left channel. Sanchez can be used as Central Attacking Midfielder, Left winger or false number 9. Messi could change from attacking midfielder, to right winger to False number 9.

    Xavi could take the deep lying playmaker role, or the central midfield / midfield general role. Busquets should stay put as DM and look to anticipate and sweep away counter attacks from Madrid. Going forward on very limited occassions.

    The back 4 can easily change to a back 3 with Alves being the key. Alves could either be deployed as a disciplined RB or RCB or he could also be our RM or attacking right wingback…with occassional stormy runs down the right..supplying width could be key.

    3 potential subs will be:

    Mascherano (he is a great CB for us, but at times he takes too long to pass the ball) His passing ability is not on par with the team, nevertheless he could easily be our sharpest tackler of the ball, hence could be key in defensive duties. I’d prefer him as CB rather than a DM.

    David Villa – He has struggled for form recently, however he has been pretty great in clasicco’s since his purchase from Valencia. If ever we need a good finisher, one who could take shots from distance, the Spanish alltime leading goalscorer is always the best bet.

    Pedro – Pedro has the experience of playing in Clasiccos. Very intelligent and hardworking player. Could be deployed on both wings and is hitting good form as portrayed by his 2 goals and 1 assist in the Champions League vs Bate .

    Noteworthy : Keita, Cuenca and Thiago are all good players..but with the intensity of this match, i’d rather not take too many a risk with their inclusion.

    INTERESTING QUESTION TO ALL : Has anybody ever felt that there are some strong similarities between Cuenca and Di Maria interms of playing style. The more i see Cuenca…the more i see the similarities of them both. Just my humble opinion!

  14. Pingback: El Clásico Preview: Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona | barçacentral

  15. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    Happy to get my line up correct =D
    Forca Barsa !!!

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