April 16, 2014; 20:30 BST
FC Barcelona face Real Madrid at the Mestalla tonight in the highly anticipated Copa Del Rey final, in what could be the best chance for both these sides to lift a trophy this season. An El Clasico in the final is always special, but considering the current standings in the league and the bad blood from the recently concluded match between these two sides at Santiago Bernabeu, this is expected to be a feisty encounter.
Barcelona’s 1-0 loss against Granada in the last game means they are now four points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid and will have to do something special to win the league from this position. They were also knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid and now Copa Del Rey represents their best opportunity to win a trophy this season. Gerardo Martino has come under increasing pressure from all corners and a failure in this competition as well will not be taken kindly by the supporters.
Real Madrid might be in a slightly better position than Barcelona in the league, but they are also trailing Atletico Madrid by three points. They face Bayern Munich next in the Champions League and are likely to find it hard to progress further in the competition. Like Barcelona, this competition represents their best opportunity to win something this season as they will provide further edge to the final.
Team news and tactics
Gerardo Martino doesn’t have too many injury concerns to contain with at the moment, but he is sweating on the fitness of some of his key players. Jonthan dos Santos and Victor Valdes are the long term injury concerns currently and there are still doubts about the fitness of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. Their absence has significantly weakened the Barcelona defence and Martino will be desperate to have them back in the starting line-up. Pique, Marc Bartra and Carles Puyol have returned to full training on Monday, but Martino is expected to delay the decision on their availability for this game.
Martino had to field a make shift defence against Granada at the weekend with Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano as Marc Bartra was unavailable due to a hamstring injury. The Barcelona managed has limited options at the back currently and this instability in defence has cost them dearly in recent matches.
Martino is expected to make five changes to the starting line-up he used in the 1-0 loss at the weekend. He rested some of his key players in that game as he prepared for the big final. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba will return to the back four as Martin Montoya and Adriano drops back to the bench. Javier Mascherano will retain his place in the center of the defence, but he likely to partner Carles Puyol, who is expected to pass the late fitness test.
This means Sergio Busquets will move back to the center of the midfield with Alex Song being replaced by Xavi, who was an unused substitute in the last game. Cesc Fabregas will also drop back to the bench, while Alexis Sanchez will replace Pedro in attack. Lionel Messi’s recent performances has come under some criticism from fans and experts and all eyes will be on him once again to see if he can deliver on the night.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Pinto (GK); Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Sanchez, Messi, Neymar
Carlo Ancelotti also faces a fairly long injury list ahead of this final. Cristiano Ronaldo, whose last appearance was in the 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash, will miss this big game due to a hamstring injury. Ancelotti confirmed his absence earlier as he pointed out that the Portuguese international won’t be risked in this game as Real Madrid has some big matches in the League and Champions League to deal with. It will be interesting to see how they cope with the absence of someone like Ronaldo in this important game.
Apart from Ronaldo, Jese and Alvaro Arbeloa are the long term injury concerns at the moment. The good news is that Sami Khedira, who has been out for a long time with injury, has returned to full training and could feature on the bench against Barcelona. Marcelo, whose last appearance was in the 2-1 loss against Sevilla back in March, continues his spell at the side-lines as well.
Ancelotti missed out on some key players during their match against Almeria and is expected to make four changes to the starting line-up he used in that game. Iker Casillas will return in goal, as he has done in all cup matches, while Daniel Carvajal, who served his suspension in the last game, will replace Nacho at the right back. Sergio Ramos will return to the center of the defence alongside Pepe as Rafael Varane drops back to the bench.
Xavi Alonso, who also served a one-match suspension like Carvajal in the last game, will return to the side in the center of the midfield as Asier Illarramendi loses his place. Ancelotti used Isco in the midfield with Di Maria out wide on the right in the match against Almeria, but he could switch their position and play Isco on the left with Bale shifting to the right in the front three. Di Maria will start behind Bale in the midfield as they look to exploit the right wing.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Casillas (GK); Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao; Maria, Alonso, Modric; Bale, Benzema, Isco
Players to watch-out for: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona); Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Prediction: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid