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Dec 18, 2019 at 7pm UK
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Combined XI: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

:Headline: Combined XI: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid:
Ahead of Wednesday's first Clasico of the season between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Sports Mole selects its strongest combined XI from both squads.

The long-awaited first Clasico of the season finally takes place on Wednesday when Barcelona welcome bitter rivals Real Madrid to Camp Nou, 52 days later than they were initially scheduled to face off.

Only goal difference separates the two sides at the top of the La Liga table after 16 games of the season, with Barcelona narrowly ahead of Madrid and both teams on 35 points.

Wednesday's match will also be the final Clasico of a decade which has belonged to Barcelona domestically, with Madrid looking for their first league win over their greatest enemies since April 2016.

Here, Sports Mole selects the strongest combined XI from both squads, using only players available for this weekend.

Real Madrid's defensive record has been noticeably better than Barcelona's this season, but that is not a reflection on Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal. The German has established himself as one of the world's best goalkeepers during his time at Camp Nou and still sits above Real Madrid rival Thibaut Courtois in that regard, with the latter having enjoyed one or two rocky patches this season.

The defensive disparity does show itself when it comes to those in front of the keeper, though, with Madrid contributing three of the back four. The biggest decision comes in selecting Raphael Varane ahead of Gerard Pique, and in truth it is one which could have gone either way. Real have conceded eight goals fewer than Barcelona in the league this season, though, and the partnership between Varane and Sergio Ramos has been a big reason behind that.

Clement Lenglet is the other Barcelona starting centre-back to miss out, while Dani Carvajal is a relatively straightforward choice at right-back. Barcelona make regular changes within their own squad in that position, with Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo sharing the role, so it is easy to go for Real's undisputed number one choice.

Both sides have had injury problems on the opposite flank, but Jordi Alba is now back fit and goes straight into this XI as a result. Marcelo is out of contention due to injury, leaving Ferland Mendy - back for this match after suspension - as the main competition for Alba in the team.

The most difficult decision in this team came in defensive midfield, where Casemiro narrowly pips Sergio Busquets to a place. Busquets has been one of the best ever exponents of the position and remains an integral part of the Barcelona team, but Casemiro's importance to Madrid has grown throughout his stay at the Bernabeu and it is noticeable how much Los Blancos struggle when the Brazilian is not in the team.

With Arthur sidelined through injury, Toni Kroos joins his clubmate Casemiro in midfield, although he and Frenkie de Jong faced stiff competition for places from the likes of Federico Valverde and Ivan Rakitic, the latter of whom has worked his way back into the fold under Ernesto Valverde recently.

Lionel Messi is, of course, an automatic choice and will be looking to add to his record tally of Clasico goals on Wednesday, fresh from winning his sixth Ballon d'Or. The Argentine has scored 12 goals and created six more in just 10 league starts this season and continues to break records on an almost weekly basis.

Karim Benzema is the only player who can match Messi's scoring feats in La Liga this season, and his superb form earns him the central striking role, in turn forcing Luis Suarez out wide. Suarez is not far behind his fellow strike partners in this team, though, having scoring nine goals and registered three assists in the league so far.

Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann was the main competition for a place in that front three, with Vinicius Junior also deserving of a mention ahead of Rodrygo and Gareth Bale, but it was impossible to leave any one of Messi, Suarez and Benzema out based on current form. body check tags ::

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last updated article - 2019-12-17 16:08:45:
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