In case you didn’t know, El Clasico is this weekend. This Saturday at 12:15 ET on beIN Sports, Real Madrid and Barcelona will face off for the first time this season at the Bernabeu. After an early threat by Celta Vigo, Barcelona and Real Madrid occupy the top two spots in La Liga.
One of the big storylines from the game is whether or not Barcelona’s Lionel Messi comes back from his knee injury. He has been in training and some of his teammates as well as Adidas insist that he’ll play but that may mean coming off the bench.
While there would be some concern from Barcelona fans about playing against Real Madrid, Barcelona has really held their own during Messi’s injury. Barcelona wasn’t perfect, they lost to Celta Vigo and Sevilla during this stretch. But thanks to a strengthened partnership between Neymar and Luis Suarez on the attack, Barcelona has maintained a three point lead over Real and some even say that if Barcelona wins, they will inevitably win the La Liga title. While that’s really just a bunch of hyperbole given that there is still six months left in the season, it will put Barcelona into a commanding six point lead.
Since Messi has been out, the right wing position has been primarily filled by Munir El Haddadi, particularly when Barcelona plays in a 4-3-3. While it’s nice for one of the Barcelona youngsters to get some solid playing time with the senior team, El Haddadi has one goal so he hasn’t necessarily lit it up. That’s not really El Haddadi’s fault either. Nobody really expected him to be anywhere close to replicating Lionel Messi. Also, he’s got two of the best players in the world to take on a bulk of the pressure and give the guy some invaluable experience. So while Barcelona obviously dropped a bit in that specific position, the team gathered around to make up for that and the team keeps chugging along.
If I had to choose what Barcelona’s lineup would be up front, I would say Neymar, Suarez and El Haddadi up front just like most games since Messi has been injured. Unless Messi is really 100%, I don’t think the team risks him going a full 90, even if it is El Clasico. I definitely believe Messi will come off the bench at some point. While he may or may not be able to go a full 90, a 30 minute shift out of him for El Clasico would be a great test. If this ends up that Messi doesn’t play, that can be a telling sign that he may not be fully back as soon as we all believe.