Real Madrid lie 15 points behind Barcelona in La Liga. They have been engulfed in speculation and unrest off the pitch for much of the season. Their captain and one of the world’s best goalkeeper’s joins three defenders on the sidelines.
In contrast, Barcelona enjoyed the best ever first-half of the season and Lionel Messi continues to break goal-scoring records a plenty—scoring in 11 straight league games.
On paper then Real Madrid appear significant underdogs as they take on bitter rivals Barcelona in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey. Maybe, but it would be foolhardy in the extreme to write Los Blancos off.
Despite the rift that reportedly exists between manager Jose Mourinho and some key players like Casillas and Sergio Ramos, Madrid have been outstanding in their last two league outings—recording a superb 5-0 victory at Valencia before handing out a 4-0 defeat to Getafe.
Much of their form has been down to the irrepressible Cristiano Ronaldo. The forward scored five goals in those two matches and now has seven strikes in his past three league outings. Madrid’s players have been speaking in glowing terms about the Portuguese and seem prepared to let him drag the team forward.
While Madrid will be without Casillas and Pepe through injury and Ramos and Fabio Coentrao through suspension, Ronaldo is keen to make the most of the first leg at the Bernabeu.
“We’ll be missing a number of players, key players, who are very important for this squad, but that’s not an excuse, we have to play well because Barça is an amazing team,” he said, according to Real Madrid’s official website. “I hope that it’s a great night for us and we’re ready for the big match.”
Barcelona’s form has been far from shabby, either. Since suffering their first league defeat of the season, the Blaugrana secured their place in this semifinal with an impressive 4-2 victory at Malaga before destroying Osasuna, 5-1 in the league.
The trip to the Bernabeu will be a big night for Jordi Roura, who will continue to deputize for Tito Vilanova. Roura has spoken of the threat he believes Madrid can pose in a two-legged tie.
“We have a big lead in the league and are in a comfortable situation, but this is a different story,” he explained, according to Barcelona’s official website. “Nothing has already been done here. Under these circumstances, they’re much more dangerous.”
Roura will have a full-strength squad from which to pick.
Real Madrid (probable)
D: Essien, Carvalho, Varane, Arbeloa
M: Alonso, Khedira
Ozil, Modric, Ronaldo
D: Alves, Puyol, Pique, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas
F: Pedro, Messi, Iniesta
Prediction: While the Copa del Rey will not have been at the top of either of these side’s lists of priorities at the start of the season, both will be going all out for victory here. But Madrid’s struggling league campaign means that it perhaps carries even greater importance for them and it would be understandable if there was greater motivation on Mourinho’s side.
Yet, Barcelona would love to perform a clean sweep this season of the league, cup and Champions League and put one over their fierce rivals along the way.
Both Messi and Ronaldo are in sparkling form and, with both defenses also looking somewhat vulnerable, it could be a high-scoring affair.
Barcelona could well exploit both the gaps in their opponent’s defense and the problems within the squad and emphasize their current superiority, but the pride playing at the Bernabeu may well ensure that Madrid head to the second leg with all still to play for.
Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona
Where to watch: The Copa del Rey semifinal first leg will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here and here.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.