Real Madrid v Barcelona: El Clasico XIs compared
The first league Clasico of the season is upon us, with Barcelona on top in the race for the La Liga title.
Real Madrid blitzed the competition last season on their way to a domestic and European double, but this season has been more of a struggle for Zinedine Zidane's side.
Talk of a crisis may be somewhat premature, but there is no doubting Ernesto Valverde has turned things around after Madrid demolished Barca in the Supercopa de Espa at the start of the campaign.
Ahead of the December 23 Clasico meeting between Barca and Real Madrid, we take a look at the likely XIs on show and rank them out of 10. Who will come out on top?
El Clásico is coming... pic.twitter.com/MqSe7c1o2r
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) December 20, 2017
Keylor Navas has kept on defying those who want to see Madrid spend big on a new goalkeeper but, this year, the Costa Rican's form has shown signs of inconsistency. By contrast, Marc-Andre ter Stegen has gone from strength to strength since becoming Barcelona's undisputed number one and is arguably the finest player at his position in Europe this season
Navas : 6
Ter Stegen : 9
Nelson Semedo has taken to life in La Liga very quickly – given the concerns about Barca's 'problem position' under Luis Enrique, this is a major boost. However, he does not quite match the steady standard of Dani Carvajal, whose absence due to a heart concern was keenly felt.
Carvajal : 7
Semedo : 6
Jordi Alba's renaissance under Ernesto Valverde has been a boon for Barca but he is still some way off the standard of Marcelo. The Brazilian's consistent impact at both ends of the pitch has been pivotal to Madrid's successes under Zidane.
Marcelo : 8
Alba : 7
Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique remain indispensable to their respective defences, although the former has looked unsteady a little too often for Madrid this season. Samuel Umtiti looks to be developing into one of Europe's best at Camp Nou, but his injury absence will draw the spotlight upon Thomas Vermaelen, providing the latter's own dreadful fitness record holds up. Umtiti's compatriot Raphael Varane continues to undermine his reputation with errors, most recently in the 3-1 loss to Tottenham.
Ramos : 6
Pique : 7
Vermaelen : 5
Varane : 5
— #ClubWC (@FIFAcom) April 9, 2016
Casemiro was a driving force behind Madrid's triumphs last season and he remains too important to leave out of the team, even if he has not quite hit those standards in 2017-18. Sergio Busquets still looks untouchable in the Barca side but there is little doubt he is growing more dependent on extra cover either side when playing against better opponents.
Casemiro : 6
Busquets : 6
Toni Kroos' brilliance in possession has not been quite as clear this season, with just a few too many big matches rather passing him by. Andres Iniesta has not always had a big part to play for Barca, despite being captain, but recent standing ovations away from home against Juventus and Valencia underline the quality he still has.
Kroos : 7
Iniesta : 7
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 17, 2017
Croatia should consider themselves blessed to have Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in their midfield. Rakitic looked close to leaving under Luis Enrique but has re-established his place in the Barca starting XI, while there has been no better central midfielder than Modric anywhere in the world over last 18 months.
Modric : 9
Rakitic : 8
— Ivan Rakitic (@ivanrakitic) December 9, 2017
Isco has gone from the fringes of the squad to undroppable playmaker over the last year and Madrid are simply a much better team these days when he is fit and on form. An serious hamstring injury for Neymar's intended replacement Ousmane Dembele has leant an air of uncertainty to the supporting actor for Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Gerard Deulofeu has performed creditably but it is hard to make an argument that the winger is a player in the same class.
Isco : 8
Deulofeu : 5
Karim Benzema is still Ronaldo's preferred strike partner but he has not been on the scoresheet himself often enough to minimise the impact of his team-mate's barren run. That said, Suarez has only just started to pull his own form out of a wretched slump and Paco Alcacer's lack of consistency is perhaps one of the only reasons he has kept his place in the Barcelona team.
Benzema : 5
Suarez : 5
Cristiano Ronaldo might now be a five-time Ballon d'Or winner but the Portugal star's goalscoring form has practically deserted him in La Liga this season. A brace against Sevilla last time out doubled his domestic tally for the campaign, while Barcelona have been evermore dependant on their talisman and his great rival Messi. It is difficult to imagine how this Valverde vintage of Barca would operate without the mercurial Argentinian. If Ronaldo's calf complaint rules him out at the weekend, his absence will not devastate Madrid as it once might.
Messi : 9
Ronaldo : 6
Of course, Barcelona are expected to be without Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti for El Clasico, which would perhaps have provided a boost to their figures, while Madrid are likely to be at full strength. But even still, the teams come out remarkably closely in our assessment. After totting up the marks, we do have a narrow winner...
Barcelona : 74