Barcelona and Real Madrid will take a break from what is currently a one-sided battle for the Primera Division title to take on lower-league foes in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. Barcelona’s emphatic 4-0 win in El Clásico 10 days ago has given them a six-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, with Atletico Madrid sandwiched in between.
The clubs go into the Copa del Rey Round-of-32 matches in very different conditions. While Barcelona are sparkling on all fronts, Real Madrid are battling rumors of dissention within the camp and strong speculation over the futures of manager Rafael Benitez and star man Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barcelona vs. Villanovense (Wednesday, 2 p.m. EST)
Due to their involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup later this month, Barcelona actually played the first leg of their tie with Villanovense back in October. Unsurprisingly, coach Luis Enrique opted to make wholesale changes to his lineup, yet there was still plenty of surprise that they only came away with a goalless draw from the home of their third-tier opponents, who have already achieved their best ever performance in the Copa del Rey just by reaching this stage. Bringing the team from Villanueva de la Serna back to the Camp Nou should still ensure comfortable progress for Barcelona, especially given their opponents are on a five-match losing streak. But coach Luis Enrique is not prepared to take any chances.
“Taking the first leg into account, it's a dangerous result because a draw would eliminate us, except a 0-0, so we are approaching the game with the level of seriousness we bring to any tie,” Luis Enrique said in his pre-match press conference, reports Reuters. “It is going to be a starting 11 that brings certainty.”
With a potentially tough fixture away at Valencia upcoming on Saturday, there looks certain to be some rotation for Barcelona. And it would be something of a surprise was the brilliant forward trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez to be at full force. But there is every reason for Barcelona to take the Copa del Rey very seriously this season. Already in a strong position to retain their league crown, and comfortably through to the Champions League last 16, there must already be thoughts that Barcelona have a real chance to become the first team ever to win back-to-back trebles.
Real Madrid vs. Cádiz (Wednesday, 4 p.m. EST)
Real Madrid will be playing the first leg of their last-32 tie, with the return match coming back at the Bernabeu in two weeks’ time. And, also against a team from Spain’s third-tier Segunda Division B, Wednesday’s encounter should present an opportunity for Los Blancos to get a much-needed comfortable win. While Real Madrid bounced back from their Clásico humbling with a 4-3 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League and 2-0 victory at Eibar, neither performance did enough to lift the negative mood around the club and Benitez.
The latest rumors of discontent surround Colombian midfielder James Rodríguez , who was reportedly angry at being the first player to be replaced against Eibar and, in part through injury, has struggled to establish himself under Benitez.
“I’m looking for the James that we all know and love,” Benitez said in his pre-match press conference, according to AS. “We’ve spoken and the situation is clear. I want to see him perform at his best and score goals in every game.”
Benitez is also having to battle an injury crisis in defense. Dani Carvajal is now expected to miss a month after picking up a thigh injury against Eibar, joining Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Marcelo on the sidelines. The Real Madrid coach has revealed that some members of the club’s Castilla (B) team will be involved against Cádiz, but insisted that he is the taking the contest at the Estadio Ramón de Carranza seriously.
“Madrid needs to try and win every competition that they participate in,” Benitez added. “We need to treat this game in the same we that we go into the rest of our games.”