Luis Enrique has reportedly decided on his Barcelona lineup for Sunday's Clasico encounter against Real Madrid, and the XI has been named by the Spanish media.
Sport writer Lluis Mascaro has suggested that Enrique "knows the team he wants to start" during the crucial Camp Nou clash, which pits first against second in La Liga. Although most players pick themselves, Mascaro indicates Wednesday's Champions League win over Manchester City may have helped Enrique make his selection.
Indeed, the only change Mascaro reports is goalkeeper Claudio Bravo coming back in for Marc-Andre ter Stegen. This may be considered slightly harsh, given the German saved a Sergio Aguero penalty, but the 22-year-old has been limited to appearances in cup competitions this season, making 14 starts in Europe and the Copa del Rey combined, per WhoScored.com.
Ter Stegen was fortunate not to be punished for trying to dribble beyond Aguero before the spot-kick, an incident that underlined his lack of experience in huge games. He is an exceptional young 'keeper and someone Barca will be hoping to depend upon for years to come, so he will likely experience the Clasico atmosphere plenty of times in the future.
Bravo is yet to miss a league game this season, so there will be no surprises if he's given the nod.
Mascaro believes one of Enrique's biggest dilemmas ahead of the match is choosing between Marc Bartra or Jeremy Mathieu in defence. The latter was a solid presence at centre-back against City, something Enrique will reward with a place in his Clasico selection, according to the aforementioned report.
Mathieu struggled in a left-back role during October's loss at the Bernabeu, where his lack of speed and agility was constantly caught out by Madrid's pulsating attack. It would be risky to expose the Frenchman to that again despite his experience in the position. Barca need speedy full-backs—Jordi Alba and Dani Alves—either side of a powerful, aerially dominant centre-back partnership.
Mascaro confirms that, unless Sergio Busquets returns from injury, Enrique will continue with Ivan Rakitic, Javier Mascherano and Andres Iniesta in midfield. The forward three was never going to change, with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez looking to outshine Madrid's trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
B/R UK's Ryan Bailey and Guillem Balague recently discussed the best Madrid team to dominate on Barca's patch:
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Enrique expects a tight battle, per AS:
Speculation about Enrique's starting team may force him into making a tactical tweak. It certainly doesn't help Barca if this 11 proves to be true despite the lack of surprise.
Victory for the Catalan club will put them four points clear of Madrid with 10 games remaining, a chasm at this point of the season. While Enrique will undoubtedly miss the patrolling presence of Busquets in midfield, his team showed ruthless form against City in midweek, something they will be looking to continue against their domestic rivals.