Sergio Busquets could be set for a surprise return to the Barcelona side for Sunday’s Clásico against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, after recovering from an ankle injury. The midfielder has missed the last three matches, but has returned to training and will at least be included in the squad, according to Catalan publication Sport.
The chances look to be against his immediate return to the starting lineup. Barcelona have won all three matches in Busquets’ absence, and, in Javier Mascherano, they have another of the world’s very best holding midfielders. Mascherano was part of the team that beat Manchester City 1-0 on Wednesday to book their place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, where they’ll take on Paris Saint-Germain.
Manager Luis Enrique could well select the same lineup that took on the English champions, with the exception of the goalkeeping position, where Claudio Bravo should continue as the first-choice for league matches, in place of Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Jeremy Mathieu deputized for Mascherano at center-back alongside Gerard Pique and looks likely to get the nod over Barcelona youth team graduate Marc Bartra. Meanwhile, Ivan Rakitic, who scored the only goal of the match, will expect to keep his place over veteran Xavi in midfield. Barcelona’s front three picks itself, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar in devastating form of late.
In contrast, Real Madrid’s famed attacking trio have not been as impressive in recent weeks, explaining, at least partly, why Barcelona enter the second Clásico of the season a point ahead of the long-time leaders of La Liga. Yet there is no question that Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale will be selected up front, especially after Bale silenced some of his critics by scoring twice in Madrid’s 2-0 win over Levante last weekend.
That victory saw a welcome return to the starting lineup of Luka Modric, after four months out with injury. The Croatian is now set to be joined in midfield by Toni Kroos, who was left on the bench a week ago having shown signs of fatigue of late. The German World Cup winner is likely to replace January signing Lucas Silva.
The match with Barcelona will come too early, though, for James Rodriguez. Last summer’s big signing from Monaco has been out for six weeks with a broken metatarsal, and will be joined on the sidelines by Sami Khedira. Like Barcelona, Madrid are also expected to make a change in goal, with Iker Casillas set to replace Keylor Navas.
D: Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba
M: Rakitic, Mascherano, Iniesta
F: Messi, Suarez, Neymar
D: Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo
M: Modric, Kroos, Isco
F: Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo