FC Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez is cautiously optimistic that he will be able to count on his top player, forward Robert Lewandowski, for Saturday’s Clasico against arch-rivals Real Madrid.
After facing serious injury problems in the last few weeks with up to seven players out, Xavi got good news on Friday as Lewandowski, Frenkie de Jong, Jules Kounde, Raphinha and Pedri participated in training before the big game.
Defender Joules Kounde and midfielders Pedri and Sergi Roberto have been ruled out, but Lewandowski, De Jong and Raphinha are ahead of schedule in their recoveries and all signs point to last year’s La Liga top scorer being fit to start against Real.
“I can’t reveal the line-up right now, but (Lewandowski) is fine and I’ll make my decision tomorrow (Saturday),” Xavi told a news conference.
“It’s complicated (to take risks with injured players) and in the end only those who are 100 per cent will play.”
Xavi, who had to call up eight academy players for the Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, praised the club’s young talent for delivering at the highest level.
Barca secured a hard-fought 2-1 win against Shakhtar thanks to a brilliant display by 20-year-old Fermin Lopez, who is becoming a regular in the first team alongside teenagers Lamine Yamal and Marc Guiu.
“The homegrown players give us something extra. They work hard, they know the importance of tomorrow’s game and what it means for our people,” Xavi said.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that midfielder Jude Bellingham is ready for the Clasico after he was forced out of their Champions League win at Braga with a thigh pull.
The 20-year-old has made his transition to Spanish football look ridiculously easy with 11 goals and three assists in 12 games in all competitions.
“(Bellingham) will play because he is feeling well. They have removed the overload (in his muscle),” Ancelotti told a news conference.
“I don’t have to explain to him what a Clasico is, everyone knows what it means. It’s a worldwide match.”
Although acknowledging the massive anticipation surrounding the game, Ancelotti insisted it should not be seen as a final.
“We are motivated... But it’s only the first Clasico of this season, there will be more.”
Real have 25 points from 10 games. Barcelona are on 24 points, two ahead of Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.