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Xavi entrusted Sergi Roberto with a key midfield role for Barcelona as the LaLiga front-runners took on Real Madrid in a titanic Clasico.
Barcelona went into Sunday’s match at Camp Nou with a nine-point lead over second-placed Madrid, making the fixture hugely significant given just 12 rounds of games remain after the international break.
The hosts were without Pedri due to fitness concerns, and this was an occasion where Barcelona boss Xavi opted on the side of pragmatism, packing his midfield as Sergi Roberto stepped up from right-back, where he featured in last week’s win over Athletic Bilbao.
Although Sergi Roberto has come in for criticism at times, Xavi is a former team-mate of his and considered him the right man for the big occasion, with Franck Kessie, another midfield option, named on the bench.
Ferran Torres was a starter against Athletic but dropped to the bench this time as Barcelona fielded a front two of Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, with massed ranks behind them.
Sergi Roberto was joined in midfield by a fellow veteran campaigner in Sergio Busquets, with Frenkie de Jong in there too, along with teenage livewire Gavi.
Ronald Araujo returned from suspension at right-back, and his battle with Madrid winger Vinicius Junior was widely expected to be a key contest.
BARÇA XI #ElClásico pic.twitter.com/yyuiOzIhIz
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 19, 2023
Madrid won 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu when these sides met in the league earlier in the season, but Barcelona snatched a 1-0 victory at the same venue in the Copa del Rey in early March.
Carlo Ancelotti’s visitors were captained by Karim Benzema, with Eduardo Camavinga preferred to Aurelien Tchouameni in midfield, where Luka Modric and Toni Kroos also featured.
Barcelona came into the game having lost five of their last six league Clasicos, with Madrid winning on their last two LaLiga visits to Camp Nou.
Los Blancos have only ever won three successive league games at Barcelona, between January 1963 and February 1965, but their title hopes for this season arguably rested on them repeating that feat.
Our starting @FCBarcelona! #ElClásico pic.twitter.com/u0lUnFdxWg
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) March 19, 2023