Xavi Hernandez’s masterly of the El Clasico comes under the spotlight when Barcelona lock horns with Real Madrid for leadership of Liga Santander. Part of the reason Spain’s World Cup winning midfield metronome quickly won unanimous acclaim from the Blaugrana faithful following his appointment despite a flimsy managerial profile was how he turned around his side’s head to head record in match ups with Los Blancos. Until Xavi put an end to the malaise, Barcelona had lost five consecutive games against the eternal enemies, an aberration.
Camp Nou club’s most capped player ever went on to recapture the Primera Liga title after a four year hiatus and has beaten Real in six out of eight confrontations but his side is yet to to hit peak form following a summer of intense transfer activity that witnessed the departure of long serving stalwarts Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets as well as winger Ousmane Dembele and midfielder Frank Kessie. Barca’s season has been further complicated by injuries to top scorer Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Frenkie de Jong, Pedro Gonzalez ‘Pedri’, Sergio Roberto and Jule Kounde.
None of the aforesaid six is likely to start on Saturday though Raphinha and Lewandowski could make the bench. De Jong, Kounde, Pedri and Roberto have all been ruled out. Spain international Ferran Torres will continue to lead the attack alongside rapidly improving 20-year-old Fermin Lopez and Joao Felix who has recovered from the knock he received in Barca’s 2-1 Champions League victory over Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. Xavi also welcomes back Pablo Martin Gavira ‘Gavi’ whose industry is critical to Barcelona’s full pitch pressing.
Though man marking is not part of Blaugrana’s traditional modus operandi, Xavi could ask midfield holder Oriol Romeu to follow Real Madrid’s new kid on the block Jude Bellingham as the Englishman’s attacking forays from midfield are a constant menace to defenses at home and abroad. Operating at the top of the midfield diamond, the £103m former Borussia Dortmund star has already bludgeoned a cool 12 goals across all competitions. Joao Cancelo will also have his hands full trying to stop Real winger Vinicius Junior.
Upstarts Girona have an excellent chance to seize temporary leadership of the standings when they welcome Rafa Benitez’s struggling Celta Vigo on Friday night. The Catalan outfit are the undoubted surprise package of the season as they go into the weekend joint top and the division’s highest scoring side. Girona’s five goal Ukrainian striker Artem Dovbyk is the man to watch. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid can maintain pressure on the top three if they take care of business against lowly Deportivo Alaves on Sunday evening.
Girona v Celta Vigo
Almeria v Las Palmas,
Barcelona v Real Madrid,
Mallorca v Getafe,
Cadiz v Sevilla
Real Betis v Osasuna,
Rayo Vallecano v Real Sociedad,
Athletic Bilbao v Valencia,
Atletico Madrid v Alaves
Granada v Villarreal