Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Expected Starting XI for El Clásico

FILE PHOTO (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF IMAGES - Image numbers 904100134,1038040072 - GRADIENT ADDED) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Head coach Ernesto Valverde of FC Barcelona (L) and Julen Lopetegui, head coach of Real Madrid. Barcelona and Real Madrid meet in the first El Clásico of the season on October 28, 2018 in Barcelona,Spain. ***LEFT IMAGE*** BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Head coach Ernesto Valverde of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on January 11, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 22: Julen Lopetegui, head coach of Real Madrid looks out from the bench before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RCD Espanyol at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 22, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images,)
FILE PHOTO (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF IMAGES - Image numbers 904100134,1038040072 - GRADIENT ADDED) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Head coach Ernesto Valverde of FC Barcelona (L) and Julen Lopetegui, head coach of Real Madrid. Barcelona and Real Madrid meet in the first El Clásico of the season on October 28, 2018 in Barcelona,Spain. ***LEFT IMAGE*** BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Head coach Ernesto Valverde of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on January 11, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 22: Julen Lopetegui, head coach of Real Madrid looks out from the bench before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RCD Espanyol at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 22, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images,) /
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Barcelona will take on the European champions without Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is the most important player in the Barcelona squad, without a shred of doubt. The 32-year old Argentine maestro is one of the greatest footballers of all-time, and shares a special relationship with the most competitive fixture in world football, with 26 goals in the Clásico.

The side will be without him for the first time since 2015, when Real Madrid suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat at home. This will also the first Clásico without either Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in 11 years, with the Portuguese superstar deciding to move to Juventus in the summer.

Barcelona have picked up some nice momentum after registering a 2-0 victory over Inter Milan in the Champions League, with Messi’s replacement Rafinha scoring the opener. But Ernesto Valverde may decide against retaining the lineup from the Inter match-up.

Expected Starting XI (4-3-3):

Goalkeeper: Marc-André ter Stegen

Right-back: Sergi Roberto

Centre-back (right): Gerard Piqué

Centre-back (left): Clément Lenglet

Left-back: Jordi Alba

Central playmaker (right): Ivan Rakitić

Holding midfielder: Sergio Busquets

Central playmaker (left): Arthur

Right winger: Rafinha

Centre-forward: Luis Suárez

Left winger: Philippe Coutinho

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The defence will be remaining the same from the game against Inter, with Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba acting as a full-backs, enclosing a defence consisting of Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet, with Marc-André ter Stegen between the sticks.

The midfield, too, should remain as it is. There will be a lot of responsibility upon Ivan Rakitić to limit Isco, while interim captain Sergio Busquets will be charged with intercepting forward balls from the likes of Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos. Arthur should be in a free role.

In attack, Ernesto Valverde should field Philippe Coutinho down the left and Luis Suárez up front, to keep alive the old Liverpool link-up. On the right, the Basque coach should keep Rafinha in the side. The Brazil international has experience in big games, and is mostly reliable.

The 25-year old playmaker will be able to keep his cool in such an intense game, which may not be true for either Ousmane Dembélé or Malcom. If Rafinha is unable to produce the goods, Dembélé could easily make an impact off the bench, as could Malcom.

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Real Madrid are undergoing a very poor spell of form, edging past minnows Viktoria Plzeň by a single goal. They have dropped 14 points in the last 6 matches in all competitions, including a 1-0 defeat to 10-man CSKA Moscow. Even without Messi, Barcelona should be winning this easily.