El Clasico: 3 Key players for Barcelona
The current LaLiga campaign has brought a variety of surprises with it. Sides like Alaves and Espanyol are punching well above their weight while the heavyweights in Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico have been far from convincing.
However, coming into the ever-intense El Clasico, Barcelona sit at the top of the table while Real Madrid are languishing in 7th place, 4 points behind their rivals. Here are 3 players who will be key for Barcelona to extend their lead over their fierce rivals despite the absence of Lionel Messi.
Arthur has been the subject of comparisons to Xavi and Andrés Iniesta since his arrival in Spain. The Brazilian midfielder was slowly initiated into the starting 11 by Ernesto Valverde but has made himself indispensable in midfield.
Playing either alongside Sergio Busquets or in a more advanced position, Arthur has shown why so many experts are hailing him to be the herald for Barcelona's next generation in midfield. Arthur is safe in possession and perfectly complements his partner in Busquets. His passing is penetrative and positive, this will be especially important in finding gaps in an out-of-form Madrid midfield.
Given that Barcelona are likely to dominate possession at home, Arthur will be important in spreading the ball wide and recycling possession when required.
Rakitic has been in scintillating form over the past month or so. His volley against Tottenham was a true indicator of his talent and sometimes the Croatian midfielder is subject to unfair criticism.
Rakitic is essentially a workhorse. His tireless running, accurate passing, shooting from distance and the niche to score goals from midfield make him one of the most complete midfielders around.
Against Madrid, Rakitic will be important in linking the midfield and attack. Coming up against his compatriot Luka Modric, Rakitic will be Barcelona's dynamic midfield presence ahead of the more reserved Busquets and Arthur.
Rakitic's physicality will also be very useful for Barcelona in the final third.
With Lionel Messi ruled out thanks to a fractured arm, the mantle of creator-in-chief will fall to Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian will start as a wide player but will drift inside as the game progresses. And while everyone is aware of his goalscoring prowess from distance, his role against Madrid will be to create chances for his teammates as well.
Messi is sure to be a big miss but without a doubt Coutinho is more than capable of filling the void left by Messi's injury. His skill from set-pieces could also be an asset for Barcelona.
Barcelona go into Sunday's El Clasico at Camp Nou as favourites. Madrid are out of form and low on confidence. If Barcelona can put in the performance they're capable of, it could be a decisive game in the title race for the league.