A place in the Copa del Rey final will be up for grabs when Real Madrid host Barcelona in the semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
The penultimate stage of the Copa del Rey will be completed this week, with both the second leg ties being played. The marquee contest of the round will be played between the two powerhouses of Spanish football, as Real Madrid lock horns with Barcelona on Wednesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu, with the tie evenly poised.
Real Madrid qualified for the semi-finals by easing past Girona with an aggregate scoreline of 7-3, winning both home and away in their Last 8 tie. Barcelona, on the other hand, came back from two goals down to hand a 6-1 trouncing to Sevilla in the second leg, sealing their safe passage through to the semis.
Real Madrid’s recent form, however, is a bit concerning, although they have only been beaten once in their last 10 outings. But, after they narrowly got past Ajax in the Champions League, Los Blancos inexplicably got beaten 2-1 by Girona before notching up a nervy one-goal win over Levante this past weekend.
Barcelona too, have been far from their best lately, having flattered to deceive in front of goal. In fact, before the come-from-behind 4-2 win over Sevilla, wherein Lionel Messi singlehandedly helped them to the three points, the Blaugrana had only managed two goals in their four previous games, which makes for quite a concern for Ernesto Valverde.
The first leg, played at Camp Nou earlier this month, had ended in a 1-1 draw, with Malcom scoring the second half equaliser after Lucas Vazquez had given Real Madrid the lead. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg.
Team News & Tactics
Santiago Solari does not have any fresh injury concerns ahead of the visit of arch-rivals Barcelona. On Wednesday, the Real Madrid boss will continue to remain without Marcos Llorente (groin) and Isco (back). Isco has returned to training, but the game has come too soon for him.
In the absence of Llorente, Casemiro will continue to remain the holding midfielder for Real Madrid. The Brazilian has been the form player in the middle of the park for the hosts, although there has been a tendency to suffer from lapses of concentration.
Providing company to Casemiro in the middle of the park, will be Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. The creative duo though, need to up their game after proving to be inconsistent in recent games, and their performances on Wednesday will play a pivotal role in affecting the outcome of the game.
In defence, Sergio Ramos is set to return after missing the game against Levante due to suspension. The Real Madrid captain will have Raphael Varane as his partner at the heart of the defence, with Sergio Reguilon and Dani Carvajal remaining the full-backs. Behind the defensive line, Keylor Navas might start, considering he is the usual cup goalkeeper, when fit.
Up ahead in attack, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior are certain starters for the hosts, judging by their form, although the former has tailed off lately. The final spot in the side is a toss-up between Lucas Vazquez and Gareth Bale, with Lucas likely to get the nod due to his work-rate.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Reguilon; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Vazquez, Benzema, Vinicius
Ernesto Valverde has seen the bill of health reducing this week, with just two players remaining on the treatment table – Thomas Vermaelen (calf) and Rafinha Alcantara (ACL rupture), with the latter seeing his season end prematurely.
The good news this week surrounds Jasper Cillessen (calf) and Arthur (hamstring), both of whom have returned to training this week, but neither is unlikely to be fit enough to face Real Madrid. Arthur’s absence is what has snapped Barcelona’s momentum to a large extent, with the Brazilian’s creative impetus being missed dearly.
In his absence, Arturo Vidal ought to continue filling in, with Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic being certain starters anyway. Sergi Roberto is the alternative to Vidal, but the Spanish international is likely to start on the bench, with Nelson Semedo starting as right-back in his stead.
Alongside Semedo, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba pick themselves. Pique’s partner at the heart of the Barcelona defence though, is likely to be Clement Lenglet, with Samuel Umtiti unlikely to be played every three days so early into his return from a knee injury. Meanwhile, in Cillessen’s absence, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start a cup game once again.
Up ahead in attack, Lionel Messi will be the key man for Barcelona once again after playing a part in all four goals against Sevilla. Luis Suarez will hope to start a scoring run after ending his drought this past weekend, with Ousmane Dembele expected to take up the final spot in the side.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Messi, Suarez, Dembele
- Wednesday night will bear witness to the 240th competitive El Clasico. Real Madrid lead the head-to-head record with 95 wins to Barcelona’s 93, with the remaining 51 games finishing level.
- The draw in the first leg earlier this month marked the fourth game in a row without success for Real Madrid against Barcelona.
- Real Madrid are the top scorers in this season’s Copa del Rey (21 goals). Barcelona are behind them with 16 strikes.
- Sergio Ramos will set the record for the player with the most appearances in an El Clasico in all competitions in the 21st century (41) if he starts.
- Ernesto Valverde is set to oversee his 100th game as a Barcelona manager. So far, of the 99 games he has taken charge of, the Copa del Rey holders have won 67 games, drawing 23 and losing just nine times.
Player to Watch
He may have been sent off rather bizarrely the last time he was on the pitch. But, Sergio Ramos has been known to step up in the biggest of games in recent seasons, either by producing a solid performance at the back or contributing with a crucial goal.
On Wednesday, Santiago Solari will need his captain to be a rock at the back, particularly with Lionel Messi coming into his own last weekend. With Sergio Reguilon alongside him playing the biggest game of the season, Ramos will also have to keep the youngster’s nerves in check while organising the defence.
A key game beckons, and the Spaniard’s performance could make all the difference.
Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
A couple of weeks ago, predicting the outcome of the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg might have been rather straightforward. Real Madrid looked hard to beat, while Barcelona were slogging it out just to find the back of the net.
The visitors would hope their profligate problems have dissipated after striking four time against Sevilla, but defence remains a concern. Real Madrid will thus, fancy their chances on the night, although their own issues at the back mean the tie has the makings of being a mouthwatering encounter.
Expect Real Madrid and Barcelona to play out one of the most exciting games of the season in Spain, with the result coming down to the slimmest of margins. The Hard Tackle is going with a 2-1 win for the hosts, which should see them return to the Copa del Rey final for the first time since 2014.