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Barcelona forced to lean on youth in Madrid Clasico battle

LaLiga champions Barcelona host bitter rivals Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season on Saturday, forced into leaning heavily on players from their…

LaLiga champions Barcelona host bitter rivals Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season on Saturday, forced into leaning heavily on players from their feted La Masia youth academy.

An injury crisis has ravaged the Catalan club, leaving them without several key players, across defence, midfield and attack.

Last weekend 17-year-old striker Marc Guiu pulled Barcelona, third, a point behind leaders Real Madrid with a goal just 33 seconds into his debut, while Lamine Yamal and Fermin Lopez strikes secured comeback draws against Granada and Real Mallorca.

The first team already features several young players who spent time at the club at youth level, including midfielder Gavi and defenders Alejandro Balde and Ronald Araujo, but the current situation has further exacerbated Barcelona’s dependence on the youth system.

Injured stars Robert Lewandowski, Frenkie de Jong and Raphinha are fighting to return to play at least some part in the game at the Olympic Stadium, but Jules Kounde, Pedri and Sergi Roberto are set to miss out.

Real Madrid have had some injury problems of their own, but defender Nacho Fernandez will be allowed to play after his three-match ban for a dangerous tackle was shortened to two.

England international Jude Bellingham, the division’s top scorer with eight goals, is Madrid’s leader, and his arrival for €103 million from Borussia Dortmund this summer was in stark contrast to Barcelona’s activity.

Still mired in financial problems, Barcelona were limited to signing players on free transfers or on loan, along with a low-cost move for midfielder Oriol Romeu, to try and fill the big shoes of former captain Sergio Busquets.

“We’re in a moment where we have to bet on players from here, and they are ready,” Barca coach Xavi told reporters last week.

“When things don’t go well, you have to double down on the bet, we have to bet on the youngsters, homegrown. I see they are hungry.”

With Barcelona fragile, scraping by without various key players and failing to consistently find the good football Xavi admits is demanded of the club, Madrid have the chance to strike a morale blow against them by inflicting their first league defeat.

Los Blancos have not regularly found top gear yet either but have come closer to it.

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