Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Vinicius Jr & Pedri make El Clasico combined XI but NO Lewandowski!

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Based on 2022-23 form, GOAL has selected a combined XI ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona's crunch meeting on Sunday

Given Barcelona can all-but seal the Liga title on Sunday with a win over Real Madrid, it's not exactly the most nail-biting Clasico of recent times.

Even if Madrid do manage a victory, Barca will still likely have enough to get over the line.

Still, there are enticing battles all over the pitch.

Real Madrid's ever-changing midfield unit will have to contend with Barca's new quartet; Ronald Araujo and Vinicius Junior will once again go head-to-head; and Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema will try to outscore each other at either end.

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But what would a combined XI look like? How does one pick between Pedri or Toni Kroos? Marc-Andre Ter Stegen or Thibaut Courtois? Lewandowski or Benzema?

GOAL tries to assemble a perfect combined Clasico XI based on this season's form...

  1. GK Thibaut Courtois
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    GK Thibaut Courtois

    Ter Stegen is a fantastic goalkeeper, and the presumptive German No.1 while Manuel Neuer recovers from a broken leg.

    Courtois, however, has been one of - if not the - best in the world for the last 18 months. One only has to look at his magnificent showing in the 2022 Champions League final, miraculous saves and all, to see why he's considered one of the top shot-stoppers around.

    And although FIFA handed its The Best goalkeeper award to Emi Martinez, it was Courtois who featured in the FIFPro Team of the Year - a clear indication of who is at the top.

  2. RB: Jules Kounde
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    RB: Jules Kounde

    He's not even a natural right-back, but it's hard to identify a better defensive presence on the right side of defence among the two teams.

    Kounde is reliable in one-on-one situations and has an excellent reading of the game. Notably, he's also improved going forward. The France international has become a solid passer of the ball, and is a fine operator in the final third when supporting the electric Ousmane Dembele.

    He will shift to centre-back someday. But for now, he's a more than serviceable right-back. And with Dani Carvajal ageing, Kounde is the best option here.

  3. CB Ronald Araujo
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    CB Ronald Araujo

    Araujo endured a difficult start to the season before sustaining a muscle injury that kept him out for almost three months.

    But he's been magnificent since his return, and is arguably the best centre-back in Europe at the moment. Near untouchable in the air, quick and ever-improving with his feet, Araujo is starting to make good on all of the promise heaped on him during his early Barca days.

    He can still make the odd mistake, but at 24, he has a long time to mature. Right now, he's leading the best defensive unit in Europe. And he will only get better.

  4. CB: Eder Militao
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    CB: Eder Militao

    Speaking of young central defenders...

    Militao is, rather conveniently, the perfect partner for Araujo, despite being relatively similar players. Although Militao is shorter than his Barca compatriot, he's equally good in the air, and arguably a better passer.

    There are, indeed, other options at this position. Andreas Christensen has been excellent for Barca this season, while Antonio Rudiger has settled in well at Madrid. But Militao is more consistent and, on form, better than both ex-Chelsea men.

  5. LB: Alex Balde
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    LB: Alex Balde

    Five years ago, you could have argued that the two best left-backs in the world played in La Liga. Marcelo was enjoying one of his best seasons in Madrid at 29-years-old, while Jordi Alba continued to provide assists as Barcelona won their third Liga title in four years.

    But now, there's something of a dearth of quality full-backs in El Clasico. Alba is no longer a regular for the Blaugrana, while Ferland Mendy isn't exactly a world-beater.

    Still, Balde has impressed. The 19-year-old is certainly raw and has made an error or two, but Xavi has entrusted him with two Clasico starts and seems primed to include him in a third.

    He's rapid, defensively intelligent, and reliable in the final third, giving him the potential to be a top full-back for a long time.

  6. CM: Gavi

    CM: Gavi

    Gavi and Pedri are often compared to Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

    It's a sensible association. Both duos are among the best at their position and are entrusted with keeping a top Barcelona side ticking.

    But while there's a bit of Xavi and Iniesta in Pedri, Gavi is different. Scrappier and more versatile than his midfield partner, the 18-year-old is equally capable of doing the dirty work as he is picking apart opposing defences. While Pedri seems to hum through the game, Gavi is at his best when tearing through it.

    Yes, the reigning Golden Boy winner is a bit of a sh*thouse. But that's what makes him so effective.

  7. CM: Pedri

    CM: Pedri

    What a footballer.

    Pedri makes the game look frighteningly easy for someone so young. He's fluid on the ball, possesses world-class vision, and is an improving finisher, too. More Iniesta than Xavi, the young Spaniard has the potential to be one of the best in the world - and is arguably in the upper echelon of central midfielders already.

    The odd injury is something of a cause for concern, and Madrid have loads of talent in this position. But most teams would prefer Pedri to Kroos or Eduardo Camavinga.

  8. CM: Luka Modric
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    CM: Luka Modric

    Is Modric the best central midfielder ever at this point? He's certainly in the conversation.

    The Croatian has aged so gracefully, somehow retaining the signature flicks and trivela passes that made him so effective in his early 20s.

    Yes, he's not as quick as he used to be, and he perhaps can't grind out 90 minutes as regularly anymore. But Modric would walk into any midfield in the world at the moment. He might have a few years to go, too.

    And sorry Sergio Busquets, the Croatian is just ageing with more class.

  9. RW: Ousmane Dembele
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    RW: Ousmane Dembele

    A year ago, it seemed unlikely that Dembele would be a Barcelona player in 2023. The €140 million (£122m/$148m) man hadn't worked out at Camp Nou, with poor performances and injuries alike eating away at a promising career.

    But Xavi has since gotten the best out of Dembele, and he's arguably become Barca's most important attacking player. The France winger is an excellent one-on-one player and an ever-improving finisher. His 10 La Liga goal involvements in just 14 starts speaks to the latter.

    There is a strong argument to be made for Federico Valverde in this position, but Dembele is simply a more complete right-winger at this point.

  10. ST: Karim Benzema
    Juan Jiménez

    ST: Karim Benzema

    Benzema or Lewandowski? The reigning Ballon d'Or winner or the man that was robbed of it two years ago?

    It's trickier than you might think. Benzema was prolific last year, enjoying one of the best Champions League campaigns ever. But he's dropped off this season and has eight fewer goals than Lewandowski in all competitions.

    It also cannot be underestimated how much Lewandowski has raised the level of Barcelona. While the Bluagrana have improved across the pitch, it is Lewandowski's goalscoring that has them atop La Liga right now.

    Still, if it comes down to winning one game, Benzema stands unparalleled. As much was clear in Madrid's 5-2 win over Liverpool in the Champions League, when the Frenchman came alive for two goals and an assist as Los Blancos rattled the English side.

    While Lewandowski has enjoyed his fair share of immense showings in Europe, Benzema is on another level.

  11. LW: Vinicius Jr.
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    LW: Vinicius Jr.

    Despite FIFA's strange reluctance to put him in their Team of the Year for 2022, there isn't a better left-winger in world football than Vinicius at the moment (especially if you consider Kylian Mbappe a striker.)

    The Brazilian has been the star of Real Madrid's season so far, serving as Los Blancos' main creative outlet while also grabbing his fair share of goals. Unfortunately, his on-field success has been marred by vile racial abuse and relentless controversy.

    Beneath all of that, Vinicius is a world-class footballer, an immense talent who will be at the top for a long, long time.