FC Barcelona will finally return to their four-man midfield system for Sunday’s La Liga meeting with Real Madrid in El Clasico.
Head coach Xavi Hernandez’s rejigging of the system was expected last weekend for a trip to Athletic Club in Bilbao where the Blaugrana won 1-0 thanks to a first half effort from Raphinha.
Instead, however, Xavi went for a 4-3-3 which allowed Ferran Torres to play on the left wing. In the Catalans’ last home fixture, Fati occupied this area of the pitch as Torres moved to the center to replace Robert Lewandowski as a striker.
With playmaker Pedri expected to make his comeback from a thigh knock which has kept him out for a month, however, it was expected that Barca would finally go with the four-man midfield that proved a great success in the 3-1 Spanish Super Cup win over Los Blancos at the turn of 2023.
On Friday, though, Pedri reportedly left a training session with visible discomfort and Xavi used his pre-match press conference to explain that he and his staff do not want to rush the 20-year-old’s recovery.
“It was a bit early for Pedri, we knew that,” Xavi said. “There was a risk but he wanted to train yesterday.
“He did not feel 100 per cent ready. In this sort of game, if you are not at full capacity, you can’t play. It’s a pity but he does not have to force. It’s not a final. We don’t want to lose Pedri for two more months,” the manager added.
Even amid Pedri’s continued absence, however, it is still expected that Xavi will field four midfielders.
As in Riyadh, Gavi will operate as a ‘false’ left winger who provides cover for Alejandro Balde when his fellow La Masia graduate powers up their shared flank.
While Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets offer pivot support, Franck Kessie will take up the attacking midfield responsibilities that were set aside for Pedri.
With a win in the world’s biggest derby, Barca can effectively wrap up the La Liga title given they would have a 12-point lead.
Regardless of the result, however, they will hope that Pedri can finally don his number ‘8’ shirt after the international break when a Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Real Madrid also awaits.