EL CLÁSICO

El Clásico: the fans would bench Isco and James and stick with the attacking trident

Madridistas and culés share the belief that their best players should start on Saturday irrespective of international action and the upcoming Champions League fixtures.

Luis Suárez holds off Raphael Varane at the Bernabéu

The fans who took part in an online survey conducted by this very publication to find out what starting line-ups Real Madrid and Barcelona should opt for in Saturday’s El Clásico clash (Camp Nou, 2030 CET) wouldn't be swayed in their selections by arguments relating to exhaustion and rotation. The best players should start. Period. And that despite the gulf in points separating the sides in the league table: Madrid sit ten points behind Barca and are now prioritising the Champions League. Another point being ignored is the fact that 18 of Barcelona’s squad and 12 of Madrid’s have been on international duty this past week and some of them return to training a mere 48 hours before the highly anticipated game. Also being cast aside are next week’s Champions League quarter-final ties (Barca-Atleti on Tuesday and Wolfsburg-Real Madrid on Wednesday).

The chosen line-up for Barca is the star-studded team we have all come to expect: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez and Neymar. The only surprise from the poll is that of the front-line trio, Messi received the fewest votes. It’s not clear if those who participated would prefer to see the Argentinian rested because of the tough European fixture ahead, because of superstition (he didn’t start in the 0-4 filleting at the Bernabéu) or because Suárez (who received the highest number of votes) and Neymar are bigger fan favourites these days.

Madrid’s starting XI would include Carvajal (nearly 20,000 votes) and not Danilo (little over 3,000), Varane would get the nod ahead of Pepe (the Frenchman edging out his Portuguese counterpart by 2,000 votes) and Casemiro would remain in the middle of the park after Benítez cowed to pressure from above to drop the Brazilian in November’s fixture in spite of him having started and performed well in various games leading up to that drubbing. In the supporters’ hands Los Blancos would line-up with: Keylor; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric; Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Topping the charts in terms of votes were Keylor, Modric, Marcelo and Benzema, in that order. The fans, in a similar vein to Zidane in the last few matches, would start with Isco and James on the bench. The Colombian seems to be more popular than the former Málaga man, however, both received four times fewer votes than the chosen midfielders. Those polled also showed little interest in starting with Lucas Vázquez or Jesé.