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Injury doubts haunt Barcelona ahead of Saturday’s Clasico against Real Madrid

BARCELONA manager Xavi Hernandez is facing serious injury concerns as his team prepares to host rivals Real Madrid in the LaLiga ‘El Clasico’ on Saturday.

Xavi had to call up eight academy players for their Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, as the Catalonian side grappled with injuries to eight key players, including Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.

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.

Despite earlier reports suggesting that last year’s LaLiga top scorer Lewandowski and midfielder Frenkie De Jong were ahead of schedule in their recovery, they are still in a race against time to be fit for El Clasico.

Defender Jules Kounde and midfielders Pedri and Sergi Roberto have already been ruled out for Saturday.

The club are hopeful that winger Raphinha will be ready for the match, in which Barca expects to have their first sell-out of the season as they are playing at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium while Camp Nou is under renovations.

Barca had another injury scare against Shakhtar, as forward Joao Felix left the game with what looked like a hip injury in the second half, but the Portuguese forward later said on social media that he was “fine”.

“We won’t force anyone. It’s a match in which we need to be at 100%,” Xavi told a press conference on Wednesday.

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“It is a matter of how each of the players feels. Everyone is eager to take part and contribute. Everyone is doing their part to make it to the Clasico.

“We’ll be at 100%, but we have to rest and disconnect because there are players who are playing a lot of minutes, with a lot of work on their shoulders right now…”

Leaders Real Madrid are not in a great position either, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defender Eder Militao out for the season with ligament tears in their knees, and new signing Arda Gueler yet to debut.

Englishman Jude Bellingham, their top player this season with 11 goals in 12 games in all competitions since joining in the close season from Borussia Dortmund, was forced out of their Champions League win at Braga on Tuesday with a thigh pull. However, coach Carlo Ancelotti said he should be fit in time.

Real lead the LaLiga standings, level with Girona, the surprise package of the season so far, on 25 points from 10 games. Barcelona are third on 24 points, two ahead of Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.

By FERNANDO KALLAS

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