Real Madrid-Barcelona: What Will Be José Mourinho's Starting XI for El Clásico
This Saturday, the two best teams in world football will clash in the first Clásico of the season.
Spanish league leaders Real Madrid will host rivals Barcelona, as they look to widen the gap at the top of the table.
Manager José Mourinho recently confirmed that he will be not be starting both Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín, stating that Cristiano Ronaldo, Ángel di María and one of the two strikers will be in the starting XI for El Clásico.
Mourinho's statement, and his decision to travel to Amsterdam without seven first-team players, provide great insight into the tactician's plans for Saturday.
Given the Madrid manager's recent comments, what will be his starting XI against Barcelona?
After Real Madrid's strong displays in the Spanish Supercopa, Mourinho will have to consider playing with his standard 4-2-3-1 formation.
Although the Portuguese tactician said that Ronaldo, Di María, and one of the strikers would start on Saturday, he did not specifically rule out Mesut Özil.
The German playmaker was on the bench for Madrid's Champions League victory over Ajax, but he did not make an appearance.
Mourinho's decision to rest Özil means that the No. 10 could feature in the starting XI against Barcelona.
If Álvaro Arbeloa is not fit to play the full 90 minutes on Saturday, Lassana Diarra could replace him as the right-back in this standard 4-2-3-1 formation.
4-3-3 Without Arbeloa
Mourinho's comments hint towards a change in formation against Barcelona.
Madrid have been in exceptional form playing the standard 4-2-3-1, but it looks as though Mourinho will return to the 4-3-3 formation this Saturday.
Real Madrid enjoyed great success with the 4-3-3 in last year's Copa del Rey Final, as Pepe starred in a defensive midfield role.
Although the Portuguese enforcer will be a key player this weekend, he will undoubtedly be playing in his natural centre-back position.
In Ricardo Carvalho's absence, Pepe and Sergio Ramos have formed a formidable partnership at the back.
With Arbeloa being substituted in midweek due to a slight leg problem, there is a possibility that he will not start against Barcelona. Lass has played well as an emergency right-back this season, and he could find himself on the right side of defense again on Saturday.
If the Spaniard is not fit for Barcelona, Fábio Coentrão will play alongside Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira in midfield.
With the Portuguese international's quickness and tenacity, he will most likely be responsible for marking Messi when he drops deep to receive the ball.
Coentrão may not be employed as a Pepe-esque midfield enforcer, but he can effectively break up opposition and provide cover for Marcelo at left-back.
Following Mourinho's recent statement and team selection against Ajax, it looks as though Lass, Alonso, and Khedira will be starting in midfield against Barcelona.
With Ronaldo, Benzema, and Di María as the attacking trivote, it will most likely be 4-3-3 for Real Madrid this Saturday.
The key player who will miss out against Barca is playmaker Mesut Özil.
The German has been a regular starter since his move from Werder Bremen in 2010, but he is not the right fit for this tactical system.
Özil does not provide the defensive work-rate or high pressure to play opposite Ronaldo or alongside Alonso in midfield.
If Arbeloa is fit for Saturday, Alonso will be joined by Lass and Khedira in midfield. The Spaniard will be responsible for finding the quick outlet pass, and launching the counter-attacks.
Lass and Khedira will provide great energy in midfield, as they look to break up Barcelona's possession game and tiki-taka style of play.
With this three-man midfield, Khedira will most likely be given the most freedom to get forward in support of the attack.
Lass will assume Pepe's role as the midfield enforcer, marking Messi through midfield and closing down opponents quickly. Khedira's tactical awareness will be important, but Lass has the quickness and tenacity to play a major role on Saturday.
Although this 4-3-3 will not produce four goals and attractive football, it is a winning formula against Barcelona.
Mourinho will set out with his team pressing high and trying to force mistakes at the back. With Lass, Khedira and Alonso and midfield, it will be difficult for Barcelona's little maestros to find passing lanes in the final third.
Saturday will be a significant test for Mourinho's men and this 4-3-3 formation.
Barcelona have been the best club team in the world in recent seasons.
However, Real Madrid are in fine form and they will be looking to make a statement against the reigning Spanish and European champions.