Will rotation come back to haunt Barça?

Guardiola seems unsure what his strongest side is – or is he just trying to keep his players fresh?


Pep Guardiola has picked 25 different line-ups in the last 25 matches.

Were he not the mastermind of 12 trophies in three and a half seasons he might have Barcelona fans accusing him of being unable to make his mind up.

More than indecision the constant rotation is being seen as warding off what he thinks will be a highly probable burnout towards the end of the season. Tomorrow Barcelona head off to Japan for the World Club Championship. They did the Champions League and La Liga double last season with a small squad but their coach saw what a toll that took on his most-used players during the run-in and does not want a repeat next year.

That is why he has used 14 different defences, 16 different midfield and forward line combinations, never repeating the same line-up in four months of competition. But with Barcelona dropping nine points in the league on their travels so far this season some fans are asking what good a squad still with plenty in the tank come May will do them if by then the title has already gone. Real Madrid opened up a six-point gap recently – the last time that happened they ended up 18 points clear of their rivals.

Guardiola rested David Villa in the 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad. He left Cesc Fabregas and Carles Puyol in the stands for an away defeat to Getafe and experimented with three at the back in a draw with Valencia – abandoning the plan at half-time.

Of course tonight to face Real at the Bernabeu Guardiola will pick his best side, not that anyone is sure what that is any more. With 25 different selections most commentators would no longer be able to agree on his strongest XI. Last season Victor Valdes lined up behind Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Puyol and Eric Abidal in defence. Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi made up the midfield and Pedro and Villa played either side of Leo Messi in attack.

The team picked itself. Cesc Fabregas's arrival has made it four for three places in midfield but so keen has Guardiola been to play all four when possible he has opted for just three at the back or, as he is expected to do tonight, with four defenders and only two attackers.

Alves, Pique and either Javier Mascherano or Puyol will line-up alongside Abidal behind the four Spain international midfielders and Villa will join Messi up front, leaving the pace of Pedro and Alexis Sanchez on the bench.

Fabregas has scored seven goals in nine league starts so far this season. This is his first league Clasico following his 10-minute appearance as a substitute in the Super Cup second leg. He has less than fond memories of playing Real Madrid as a youngster. He lost 3-2 as a 12-year-old in 1999 in Spain's famous Brunete youth tournament, and he was a substitute later the same year in a 1-0 reverse in front of 12,000 supporters in the final of Torneo de Futbol 7 in Barcelona.

"Real Madrid are the best side in the world on current form," he said this week. But as if in response Iniesta added a day later: "This is the best Barça side I have played in." He and Fabregas are combining almost as well as the former Arsenal captain and Messi, and they will share the responsibility of getting forward to support the Argentine tonight.

Messi remains Barcelona's biggest threat. He has scored 13 goals in 15 games against Real and his duel with Cristiano Ronaldo – they both have 17 in the league – is as close to call as the title race. They both scored in last season's 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in April – a result that all but ended Real's hopes of catching Barcelona. Will tonight do the same for Guardiola's battle-worn players heading off to Japan in the morning?

The fears over an end of season burnout were first raised in the summer. "We used to have pre-season now we go on tour," Guardiola said after some exhausting globetrotting. But there is one cause for optimism among Barça fans. Despite taking in three continents and on more than one occasion having to call short training sessions because of the humidity in that pre-season, Barça were not found wanting in the curtain raiser double-header against Real.

And as they contemplate not being quite up to Madrid's furious pace again, they can also take heart from being well-rested this week. On Wednesday night Guardiola sent out a side of 20-somethings and watched them beat Belarusian champions BATE Borisov 4-0.

Twenty-four hours later players such as Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil were in Amsterdam for Real Madrid's last Champions League group game. On Thursday when Real players were training as normal Guardiola gave his squad the day off. Today, as for all away games, they will arrive on the day of the match. Madrid's players meanwhile will have spent the night together in a hotel away from their families.

The intensity of the challenger's preparations reflects their rude health. The energy conservation of the champions is perhaps a mark of their more fragile state. Ninety minutes in front of an estimated TV audience of 500m will doubtless sort the weak from the strong and Barcelona fans will hope that burnout Guardiola is so worried about, is still a long way off.

Jose and El Clasico: Mourinho's Results

29 November 2010 (La Liga)

Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid

16 April 2011 (La Liga)

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona

20 April (Copa del Rey final)

Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid [aet]

27 April (Champs Lg sf, first leg)

Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona

3 May (Champs Lg sf, second leg)

Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid

14 Aug (Spanish Super Cup, first leg)

Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona

17 Aug (Spanish Super Cup, second leg)

Barcelona 3-2 Real Madrid

Mourinho's record in El Clasicos

P7 W1 D3 L3 F7 A14

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little