Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde is unlikely to make any changes to the team that started against Inter Milan, when Real Madrid come visiting this weekend.
Reigning La Liga champions Barcelona will face off against bitter rivals Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the 2018-19 season at Camp Nou on Sunday evening.
Barcelona are second in the La Liga table currently, having accrued 18 points from their nine matches (W5, D3, L1), one point behind leaders Atletico Madrid. After beating Sevilla 4-2 last weekend, Ernesto Valverde’s men registered a 2-0 win over Italian heavyweights Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night.
Currently on a five-game unbeaten streak, the Blaugrana will be aiming to extend that run by beating Julen Lopetegui’s men on Sunday and further widen the four-point gap between the two teams.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is a definite starter between the sticks at Camp Nou for the Clasico. Sergi Roberto returned to the starting XI against Inter during the week, after missing back to back games in the La Liga. He is expected to hold on to his spot at right-back on Sunday, while Jordi Alba is the undisputed choice at left-back.
Barcelona are going through a bit of an injury crisis in defence with mainstay Samuel Umtiti still sidelined with a knee problem he picked up last month, while Thomas Vermaelen is also out with an injury since the international break.
Valverde has no option but to stick with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, who will be making his Clasico debut, in the heart of the defence.
Summer signing Arthur Melo has been in impressive form in recent matches for the Catalans and earned praise from the manager ahead of the game. Speaking about the Brazilian in his pre-match press conference, Valverde said: “This is a big game for him. It’s his first Clasico if he’s fit enough. We expect a lot from him, he’s fitted in well to our philosphy and the fans appreciate that.”
Arthur will take up one of the three midfield slots for Barcelona against Real Madrid, with the experienced Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic likely to partner the Brazilian. That would mean, fellow summer arrival Arturo Vidal will have to make do with a spot on the bench once again.
Lionel Messi is ruled out for Barcelona, after he fractured his hand against Sevilla last weekend. The club captain’s absence leaves a gaping hole in attack for the Blaugrana, that is expected to be filled by Rafinha Alcantara, who scored against Inter in the European encounter, meaning Ousmane Dembele and Malcom miss out.
Philippe Coutinho will start on the left side of the attacking trident for the Catalans. In Messi’s absence, a lot will be riding on the Brazilian playmaker and Valverde claimed that he was confident that the former Liverpool man will step up.
“Coutinho’s a great player, he’s got a great shot, he’s a constant headache for defences because he’s always involved and creating. Of course we want more from him and I’m sure he will do more,” the manager said in his pre-match presser.
Luis Suarez has scored six goals in his 10 Clasico appearances since joining Barcelona in 2014. He will spearhead the attack for the Catalans.