Barcelona will be missing their first choice full-backs, with Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba injured. They will be replaced by the uninspiring duo of Nelson Semedo and Junior Firpo, and there is likewise a doubt over Gerard Pique after he harmed his ankle during Tuesday’s draw at Napoli.
Further forward, just recently set up manager Quique Setien has lots of choices to support key male Lionel Messi, who has once again carried the team this season by taping league-high overalls of 18 objectives and 12 assists.
Against Napoli in midweek, Setien opted for Messi and Antoine Griezmann in attack, stacking the midfield with a narrow quartet of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Frenkie de Jong and Arturo Vidal.
He may opt for a comparable choice this weekend, but a set of appealing alternatives are available. Teenager star Ansu Fati offers width, goalscoring and a welcome dosage of the unpredictable, and his addition would include another dimension to the group’s otherwise undermanned attack.
The real wildcard, nevertheless, might be previous Middlesbrough misfit Martin Braithwaite, who ended up being a surprise emergency situation finalizing recently after Ousmane Dembele was sidelined for six months.
Braithwaite made an appealing launching off the bench against Alaves last weekend, helping the last two objectives. The Danish striker still has to show that he can make a significant contribution at minutes that matter, but he does offer the speed and directness which are otherwise doing not have.
Keeping control or risking penetration?
December’s conference was the very first goalless draw between the teams since 2002, and this weekend’s showdown could well be a similarly cagey affair.
With just two points in between them at the top of the table, the stakes are high – particularly as head-to-head records, not goal distinction, different groups level on points in La Liga. That indicates Sunday’s game is successfully worth an extra point to the winner, so avoiding defeat will possibly be more tempting than chasing after success.
A crucial tactical concern will be whether supervisors Zidane and Setien pursue mindful control or take threats to find charge box penetration.
In the very same way that the Barca boss must select how to complement Messi and Griezmann, Zidane’s issue is how he can build his group’s attacking play around Benzema.
Bale need to be the obvious alternative, especially with Hazard out, however the Welshman has actually done bit in recent weeks to justify starting. Wingers Vinicius and Lucas Vazquez might also be used, but Rodrygo is unavailable through suspension after getting dispatched with the club’s B team last weekend.
Zidane, who loves differing his group choices and springing surprises, could likewise follow Setien’s approach and overload his midfield, with Casemiro, Kroos, Valverde, Isco and Luka Modric all doing more in recent weeks to earn a starting spot than any of the forwards.
Setien, on the other hand, is a devoted adherent of ownership football: his group attempted more than 1,000 passes in a house win over Granada, while his persistence on structure from the back led to goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen making 69 passes earlier this month versus Getafe.
So Barca could well control possession, but can they utilize it to provide Messi and Griezmann with ammo?
This Clasico comes with numerous unknowns. The answers could go a long way towards deciding this season’s champs.