El Clásico Real Madrid vs Barcelona: Barcelona injured and suspended for the game
Barcelona will look to reverse a run of four consecutive Liga Clásico defeats at the Bernabéu on Sunday when Xavi's side take to the pitch against Real Madrid.
Xavi Hernández will return to the Bernabéu as a coach for the first time when Barcelona arrive in the capital to take on Real Madrid in the second Clásico of the season on Sunday, a game available to viewers in the US live on ESPN. As a player, Xavi made 42 Clásico appearances, winning 17 games and losing 13 with 12 draws. It won’t be the first time the former Spain international, the architect of tiki-taka and one of the finest midfielders the game has ever seen has faced Madrid from the dugout, but it will be the first one that really counts. The two sides met in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals in January, Madrid winning an absorbing contest 3-2 in Riyadh, but neither coach would pretend the result of that one mattered greatly, at least as long as the tournament sponsors and the Spanish Football Federation aren’t looking.
Liga Clásico the real deal for Barcelona
A Liga Clásico is the real deal, gloves off, chips down and despite a 15-point gap between Madrid and Barça ahead of the game, it remains an important fixture in terms of the season. Madrid hold a healthy 10-point advantage over second-placed Sevilla but have to travel to the Sánchez Pizjuán next month while away games at Celta, Atlético and Osasuna also represent the possibility of dropped points away from the Bernabéu, where the hosts haven’t lost a game in LaLiga since Levante’s smash-and-grab on 30 January, 2021, a run of 24 unbeaten at home. Ancelotti will not be keen on surrendering that record lightly.
For Xavi, it represents an opportunity to lay down a marker and confirm that Barça are, almost, back. Following the failures of the Quique Setién and Ronald Koeman experiments, Xavi has restored pride to Camp Nou, as well as a healthy dose of coherence to the side’s play in the wake of the Dutchman’s incessant tinkering and Setién’s belief that attack will always trump defence; a tactical blueprint that was torn to shreds by Bayern Munich during the infamous 8-2 Champions League defeat in Lisbon. After a brief flirtation with three at the back, Xavi has settled on the Barça basics of a 4-3-3, turned Frenkie de Jong back into the player he was at Ajax and shorn up his back line: in 10 Liga games using that formation, Barça have conceded eight times and scored 24.
Barcelona injuries and suspensions
Xavi has relatively few injury issues going into Sunday’s Clásico. Samuel Umtiti is out with a bone fracture in his foot, Sergi Roberto has a thigh injury and Ansu Fati remains on the sidelines with a long-term tendon issue in his hamstring. A minor blow for the Barcelona boos is the loss of Sergiño Dest, who has responded to his benching in Xavi’s early days with some decent performances of late, not least against Galatasaray where the US international was a constant threat on the right and covered the dangerous runs of Kerem Akturkoglu well.
However, Dani Alves was always likely to come back into the side for a game against Madrid given his greater experience and Ronald Araújo offers a more physical presence to deal with the threat of Vinicius. The absence of Ansu was a problem for Barcelona pre-January, when the Catalans were struggling for goals, but the arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres have more than made up for the enforced absence of the Spain striker.
Dest was deployed as a right winger in the first Clásico of the season and provided the assist for Sergio Agüero’s opener, but Xavi has rehabilitated Ousmane Dembélé to the extent the Frenchman may start at the Bernabéu having been on the verge of having his contract cancelled just a few weeks ago.