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El Clasico: Real Madrid line-ups to beat Barcelona

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With El Clásico less than a week away, Rafa Benitez's tactical mind will be in overdrive in thinking how he can line-up his team to beat Barcelona. Here are two options the Madrid coach could use to ensure victory against Luis Enrique's side.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Rafa Benitez never seems to be too far away from his tactics book but with his first El Clásico match on the horizon at the Santiago Bernabeu next Saturday, the Real Madrid coach's mind will be in overdrive as he looks at the best way to beat Barcelona.

The stakes are high - they always are. As a one-off match, Madrid's clashes with Barcelona are the biggest in the world but this time top-spot is also at stake. Madrid's 3-2 loss at Sevilla last weekend put more pressure on Benitez as Luis Enrique's men took over at the top. Now Benitez needs the perfect formula to get the fans back onside with a big result.

With players on the road to recovery team selection and tactics will not be easy. Players such as Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo and Karim Benzema are all working overtime in an attempt to be ready for the match. Although all are likely to be involved in the squad only time will tell if they're fit enough to start.

Here are the two line-ups best suited to getting a positive result against the Catalans in the Spanish capital next week.

1) Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Casemiro, Modric; James, Bale, Ronaldo; Benzema.

With all players available, this looks to be the strongest on paper - with one notable exception. The trust shown in Casemiro, and his success on the back of it, has surprised everyone this season and his importance to this Madrid team in the big matches may well be showcased against Barcelona at the expense of Toni Kroos.

Kroos has been a crucial cog since arriving at the club from Bayern Munich but his performance levels this season have dropped from those of the last campaign. Not only that but Casemiro has shone in the middle of the park and handed his coach a welcome selection headache.

Madrid need a ball-winner in midfield and while the German did that job well under Carlo Ancelotti last season, the Brazilian has shown he can do the specifics better. Casemiro started the season well but showed his true worth in the 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid. Benitez trusted him and he responded. With Barcelona set to have a high percentage of the ball in and around the penalty area, Casemiro's ball-winning qualities could be crucial.

The former Porto loan man may not have the passing abilities of Kroos, or the organisational know-how and big-match experience, but his role would also free-up Luka Modric and the rest of the Madrid midfield. If Kroos played, everyone would need to chip in that bit extra.

Benitez also showcased his desire to play 4-2-3-1 early in the season before injuries took their toll. This formation would squeeze in all of his forward stars, including James Rodriguez, and would be allow a fluid transition to 4-2-2 when Madrid don't have the ball, with the Colombian and Bale tasked with tracking back.

Danilo has been the preferred option at right-back but the Brazilian has yet to wow Madridistas and if Carvajal is fit and available the Spaniard could be preferred.

2) Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, James; Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema.

Benitez has varied his formations throughout this season based on the players available and the opposition but in the biggest match of the season so far, away at Atletico, he went with a 4-3-3 that worked very well in parts.

During the first half Madrid played as well against Diego Simeone's side as any of their matches last season but the second half proved to be a different matter. If Madrid show the kind of control playing 4-3-3 as they did against Atleti in the first 45 minutes at the Calderon, they will be in with a chance against Barcelona.

Carvajal has again been preferred at right-back but only if the Spain international is fully fit. El Clásico is not a match where passengers can be carried. If fit, the former club youth product could provide a better option down the right flank given Danilo's mediocre start, especially given his relationship with James.

The ‘BBC' has been restored to action after Bale returned to action against Sevilla and Benzema stepped up his own return to action in training. With a weekend free from competitive action, the Frenchman could be in-line for a return in the big one and if he regains the form he had before his injury it will be a big boost for Los Blancos.

Kroos has been preferred this time, but only in a midfield three alongside Modric and James. His involvement will require more defensive work from his teammates in the middle but with three in attack, Bale and Benzema can both track back to link-up the play. The German's inclusion will also allow for some more creativity in attack.

Unlike last year's matches with Ancelotti at the helm, it won't be so easy to predict Madrid's starting eleven for El Clásico and that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially with Benitez and Madridistas still in the dark over Lionel Messi's involvement in the match.

Benitez is known as a manager who rotates and tinkers with his starting eleven but he does that to ensure his squad remains in the best shape throughout the season and for occasions just like this. The jury may still be out on the Madrid-born coach but if he plays his cards right next Saturday night he will get plenty of people off his back.