El Clasico: How should Barcelona lineup
It has been a mixed first half of the season for FC Barcelona. They have remained unbeaten in the league while not being at their best and have often been saved by the heroics of Lionel Messi and Marc André ter Stegen.
It was thought Neymar's departure wouldn't have much of an impact on them with the arrival of Ousmane Dembele, but the latter's injury caused a major blow to the team especially after their brilliant performance against Juventus early in September.
Since then, Barcelona haven't been able to find the right combination to play their style of football effectively. With the big match coming up against their arch-rivals, they would be keen to field the right XI. Let's take a look at the best way they can lineup considering the form and fitness of the players.
Formation: The Barcelona 4-3-3
Though Ernesto Valverde has experimented with a number of formations, Barca has played the best football when their traditional 4-3-3 has been deployed.
At goal, Marc Andre ter Stegen has been excellent for Barca and have been one of their top performers apart from Lionel Messi. At this stage, he can easily claim to be among the top 5 goalkeepers in Europe at the moment, if not in the top 3.
At central defence, in the absence of Umtiti, Pique and Vermaelen have done quite a good job with Vermaelen surprisingly performing exceedingly well and also managing to stay very fit. Mascherano has just recovered and will be hoping to come off the bench in what may turn out to be his final Clasico.
One of the key features of Barcelona this season has been the revival of Jordi Alba. He's been a valuable member of their defence and a key figure in most of their attacks down the left. The departure of Neymar has liberated him giving him plenty of space to bombard the flank.
An underrated aspect of Barca's attack has been his partnership with Messi over the last few years when Messi brings the ball from deep. He was the man who provided Messi with the assist in the final minute of El Clasico at the Bernabeu last season, and since then, the link has gotten even stronger.
The right-back position has been a problem for Barca since the departure of club legend Dani Alves, and Sergi Roberto had to occupy the spot last season. Nelson Semedo was expected to make the position his own this season, but for some reason, Valverde seems to trust Roberto more.
There's no doubting Roberto's ability, but his intelligence and reading of the game need to be utilized in the midfield or attack. His dribbling ability is next to Messi's and Iniesta's in the team and when he runs with the ball, he's hard to catch.
Real Madrid has experienced this last season at the Bernabeu so they'll be hoping to control him wherever he plays. But Semedo should still occupy the right-back position with Roberto playing in front of him on the right wing.
At midfield, Barcelona should stick with the experienced trio of Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic. Busquets was rested last week against Deportivo to protect him from receiving a yellow card which would make him miss the Clasico.
So he'll be itching to return to the field. He's one of the most important pillars of Barcelona and the team just doesn't function the same way without him. Iniesta has managed to remain fit and judging by his performance in the last match he seems to be in exquisite form.
Valverde has given him the license to move forward and he's running with the ball more often this season in the absence of Neymar who was at times blocking his position going forward.
He's a player for big occasions and an Iniesta in full flow will cause plenty of problems for the Madrid side. The third midfielder should be Rakitic as it's been since the departure of Xavi. Though he's not at the top of his game, there's no other player on the Barca bench who's an improvement on him.
An argument can be made for Paulinho considering the number of goals he's scored since his arrival and his surprising ability to link up well with Messi, but stats can be deceiving at times.
Paulinho's abilities as a destroyer can be used more effectively when he's coming off the bench if the team is in need of something different in attack.
Ideally, Barca would have preferred to go with a front three of Messi, Suarez and Paco Alcacer. But with Alcacer's unfortunate injury against Deportivo, the best option is to play Sergi Roberto on the right flank as mentioned before.
Denis Suarez is another option but his best position seems to be on the left. Playing Roberto will guarantee them a better control of the game and as a tireless worker, he can cover up for the fullback and help the defence.
Luis Suarez has regained his goalscoring touch in the last few games which will be a big boost of confidence for him. He's lost some of his pace this season which has been very frustrating, but he's still a very lethal striker and given he manages to take his chances, Barca will have no complaints.
The final piece of the puzzle is the most important one, Lionel Messi. He's been the best player in the league so far apart from being the top goalscorer. He had a frustrating night against Deportivo last Sunday missing the penalty and hitting the woodwork multiple times, so he'll be wanting to find the net and assist his mates.
The Bernabeu has been a great hunting place for Leo and Barca fans cheekily refer to it as his "training ground". So he'll be the most important man for them. A good match for Messi is a good match for Barcelona.
A word on Ousmane Dembele. The youngster has returned to training after the horrible injury he suffered four months back and Valverde has made it clear he will not be rushed back for the Classico. This is a good decision by the coach as Dembele will be key to Barca's plans in the second half of the season.
So this is the starting lineup Barcelona should go with in the El Clasico on Saturday, playing a 4-3-3 formation.
Valverde might also employ a 4-4-2 as he's done quite a few times this season with a midfield four of Iniesta, Busquets, Paulinho and Rakitic with Roberto at right back and Messi-Suarez upfront. This formation doesn't allow the team to play the typical Barcelona way and often leaves Messi alone at the front with no one to pass to.
So let's hope Barcelona sticks to their style and play with the traditional 4-3-3 and we'll be in for a treat of a match from them.