The Clasico is around the corner and Luis Enrique is weighing up his options for the trip to the Bernabeu. The final decisions will not be taken until Friday – or even Saturday, hours before the game, when he knows the fitness of all his injured players and those returning from the international break.
In principle, the Asturian is looking at things in two ways. If Lionel Messi is available, he would probably opt for the side that played the Champions League final in Berlin, albeit with Claudio Bravo in for Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The other option, without a fit Messi, is more of a surprise. He could go 4-4-2 and could even include Thomas Vermaelen. Any decision, though, will depend on Messi.
The Argentine crack will have the last word on how he feels. His recovery is going well. The sessions with Barca B were positive and his incorporation with the group has allowed him to take steps forward. However, he’s only taken part in relaxed sessions so far and it’s the more demanding sessions, later in the week, which will mark his fitness.
Messi is working flat out to try to be ready for the Clasico and it will be difficult to out the breaks on him or to ask him to stay on the bench at the Bernabeu. If he received the green light and completes the final two training sessions of the week, he will want to be on the pitch helping his team-mates on Saturday.
However, with no Messi, Luis Enrique may go 4-4-2. That’s handicapped, though, by the fact it was only used for 20 minutes against BATE, with Ivan Rakitic forcing a switch back to 4-3-3, with Munir El Haddadi coming on his place – Sergi Roberto had started the match on the right, but took Rakitic’s place in the middle.
For Madrid, Lucho may look for more muscle, with Vermaelen in defence alongside Gerard Pique. The Belgian assures better control of dead ball situations. That could see Javier Mascherano push forward into midfield, with Rakitic, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets — with Neymar and Luis Suarez as the two forwards.
However, that formation would also leave the door open for Sergi Robero, who Luis Enrique may decide to use given his form. The return of Rakitic to training, though, creates a dilemma.
Deepening on the formation, Munir is also an outside bet to play. He seems to have moved ahead of Sandro in Luis Enrique’s thoughts and played well on his last outing, even if he hasn’t scored for over a year — neither has Sandro.
Luis Enrique will decide in the coming days. A lot of what he decides will depend on Messi, the best player on the planet.