x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sergio Ramos set for el clasico recall for Real Madrid

The defender is set to start in a 4-2-3-1 formation as the Spanish champions bid to stop Barcelona recording a record seventh straight victory to start the season.

Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (R) vies for the ball with Ajax Amsterdam's Ryan Babel during the UEFA Champions League Group D football match Ajax Amsterdam vs Real Madrid on October 3, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ ROBIN UTRECHT

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Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (R) vies for the ball with Ajax Amsterdam's Ryan Babel during the UEFA Champions League Group D football match Ajax Amsterdam vs Real Madrid on October 3, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ ROBIN UTRECHT *** Local Caption *** 598839-01-08.jpg

BARCELONA // Defensive concerns are the main issue for Barcelona ahead of el clasico, when they will attempt to make it a club record seven-game winning start to the Primera Liga season.

Carles Puyol is definitely out, having broken his arm playing against Benfica in Lisbon on Tuesday, while his usual central defensive partner Gerard Pique is still recovering from a foot injury. Xavi rates Pique's chances of playing at "50/50."

Without their defensive mainstays, Barca are likely to play an unusual 3-4-3 formation, with Sergio Busquets sitting in front of Daniel Alves, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba in defence.

Xavi and Andres Iniesta will be ahead of them, with in-form Cesc Fabregas behind a front three of Alexis Sanchez, Pedro and Lionel Messi. Messi has not scored in four games, but he has scored or provided an assist in all ten Barca games so far this season.

Both teams will walk out to a giant mosaic of the Catalan flag held up by over 90,000 home fans, the flag mosaic more significant given the increasing calls for Catalan independence. "We live in a democracy and the people are allowed freedom of expression," said Xavi.

Madrid's dressing room has not been harmonious recently with defender Sergio Ramos outspoken against coach Jose Mourinho, but Ramos is set to start in a 4-2-3-1 formation comprised of Alvaro Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos and Marcelo in defence. Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira will make up the defensive midfield behind Angel di Maria, Luca Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored a hat-trick in each of his last two games.

Gonzalo Higuain is expected to start up front as Madrid aim to stop their rivals' winning run.

More importantly, they want to stop Barca going 11 points clear just seven games into the season.

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