Real Madrid and Barcelona, bitter rivals, are entering the first leg of their Copa del Rey (CDR) semi-final after both team dropped points in La Liga over the weekend. Madrid and Barcelona will square off for the third “El Clásico” of the season (one win apiece) and the 252nd overall. Madrid saved a tie against city rivals Atlético with a late equalizer, while Barca were surprised in a 1-0 loss to Almera.
Madrid extended their unbeaten streak to six games (W5, D1), including crushing Liverpool 5-2 in the UEFA Champions League and defeating Al-Hilal 5-3 to win the FIFA Club World Cup, even though they could only reduce Barcelona’s championship advantage to seven points. Yet, Los Blancos didn’t cruise to this point; after two one goal CDR victories, they went on to beat Atlético 3-1 in extra time in the quarterfinals.
Barcelona has had a terrible week. On Thursday, Manchester United eliminated them from the UEFA Europa League, and on Sunday, they suffered their first-ever loss to Almera. Xavi referred to that defeat as his team’s “worst game of the season,” noting that the record-setting 31-time CDR champions lacked focus and momentum.
Barcelona may therefore need to start over in order to reproduce either of their two wins in the previous three encounters with their enduring foe (L1), including a 4-0 triumph at the Bernabéu in late March. In one sense, history is on their side because they have won two and lost three of their last five head-to-head meetings away from home in this competition. However, the absence of important players like Ousmane Dembélé, Pedri, and Robert Lewandowski ahead of this cup match poses a threat to that record.
Players to keep an eye on are with two of his past three club goals coming after the 75th minute, Madrid’s lvaro Rodriguez may be urged to make another late impact after becoming their youngest scorer against Atlético this century at 18 years and 226 days. Ferran Torres, 22, who has slightly more experience, scored here for Barcelona in October and may pose a threat as time expires because all five of his goals for his team this season have come after the 40-minute mark.
Real Madrid lost Ferland Mendy to a thigh injury sustained during their quarterfinal victory over Atletico in January, and since then, Rodrygo and David Alaba, who suffered injuries during their Champions League last-16 first leg victory over Liverpool, have joined him in the treatment room.
Alaba is undoubtedly out, but Rodrygo has returned to training quickly. Luka Modric will serve a ban this weekend against Real Betis, but he is fine to play here.
Aurelien Tchouameni, who is now fully recovered from the sickness, may freshen up the Blancos midfield alongside Modric, who was merely an injury substitution against Atletico on Saturday. This would allow Federico Valverde to move forward in place of Marco Asensio.
Lewandowski, who suffered a hamstring injury during the weekend’s loss to Almeria, has already dealt Barcelona an unforeseen injury setback. His recuperation has no set timetable according to the Catalans, but he will undoubtedly observe this match from the sidelines.
Pedri and Ousmane Dembele are both out of the running due to separate thigh injuries, but on the plus side, Xavi is optimistic that Ansu Fati’s injured knee will recover in time for the opening leg.
The 20-year-old is one option to go in for Lewandowski through the middle, but Ferran Torres should start at number nine so Raphinha can move back out wide following his odd post-Manchester United injury, in which he injured his foot by kicking a refrigerator in rage after being replaced.
Courtois, Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Nacho; Kroos, Tchouameni, Modric, Valverde, Benzema, and Vinicius Jr. might be Real Madrid’s starting lineup.
Ter Stegen, Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde, De Jong, Busquets, Roberto, Raphinha, Torres, and Gavi might all start for Barcelona.
Our prediction is Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona.
Barcelona may have recently defeated their fierce rivals in cup competitions, but Lewandowski’s injury has only served to highlight previous results, and the absence of Pedri is undoubtedly having an affect on the Blaugrana’s performance as well.
While Benzema, who was conspicuously absent from FIFA’s The Best awards with the first leg in mind, should be rested and ready to go, Ancelotti’s top midfielders should be, and we can only back Real Madrid to take a two-goal advantage to Camp Nou for the second leg on April 5.