It is the most feared and honored rivalry in the history of the sport. El Clásico is when the two best teams in Spain, and arguably in the world, meet in a battle with as much political history behind it as sporting records. FC Barcelona will travel to the Spanish capital to take on Real Madrid CF in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal in what will be a rematch of last season’s final of the tournament.
Though the bad memories of the extra time 1-0 loss last year that led to Barcelona failing to achieve the triple still seem fresh, both teams will realize that this is a whole new season and a whole new trophy to claim. Madrid being five points ahead of Barcelona in La Liga will also be inconsequential since, if anything, the result of the competition last year proves that La Liga and Champions League winners does not always equal Cup champions as well.
Madrid progressed to the quarterfinals by beating SD Ponferradina 7-1 on aggregate and Málaga CF 4-2. Barcelona’s journey was slightly more magnificent as it conquered CE L’Hospitalet 10-0 and CA Osasuna 6-1. As mentioned before, however, past results will be far from the teams’ minds that have met eight times in just the past 13 months, of which the only game Madrid won was the 2011 Copa del Rey final.
A significant player to watch this game will be Alexis. It was the Chilean’s goal that equalized in the last game at the Santiago Bernabéu and led the team to a comeback 3-1 finish. Alexis’ last game played against Real Betis saw him assist the first two goals as well as score himself, bringing Barcelona back in front after letting a two goal lead slip away. Alexis is beginning to hit his stride with his new team and is gearing up to peak at just the right moment. Hopefully, he will again make the difference against the Castilians.
Besides the absences of long-term injured David Villa and Ibrahim Afellay as well as Malian Seydou Keita who is competing in the African Cup of Nations, there are two less players available to head coach Pep Guardiola. Defender Andreu Fontàs tore his ACL early in the last Copa del Rey match against Osasuna and will be out for around nine months after having surgery this Saturday. Forward Pedro also injured his hamstring later in that same game and will thus be out for a few more days.
Though those are five key players Barcelona will be without, the team can take pride in the fact that it still adheres to tradition by fielding its second choice goalkeeper in this completion, unlike its quarterfinal rivals. Barcelona B players Cuenca, Montoya, Dos Santos, and Sergi Roberto also made the match squad to fill out the bench. Other than these exceptions, though, Guardiola will surely field one of his strongest lineups possible against the team that is currently five points clear of second place in La Liga. This lineup will surely include three time consecutive FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi who will also be playing his 300th official match in a blaugrana kit.
FC Barcelona Predicted Starting XI: Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi, and Alexis.
Real Madrid CF
Unfortunately for head coach José Mourinho, he does not have as many of his starting options as usual. Sami Khedira, and Ricardo Carvalho are definitely out of the match with injuries. Ángel di Maria and Pepe, though not completely fit, may be cleared for the game with late fitness tests. Defender Álvaro Arbeloa will also be missed as he will be serving a one match ban after being sent off for accumulating two yellow cards in Madrid’s last Copa del Rey match against Málaga.
Mourinho does have various options to fill these gaps, however, and will not let injuries and suspensions deter him and the team from retaining their sole trophy won last season.
Real Madrid CF Predicted Starting XI: Casillas, Diarra, Ramos, Albiol, Marcelo, Xabi Alonso, Coentrao, Callejon, Özil, Ronaldo, and Benzema.
There is no doubt that this match will be a tough one. Though both teams have been displaying shaky form as of late, each is bound ignore whatever drama has ensued in the league or in previous games and focus exclusively on the match at hand. This game will be rough, as El Clásicos usually are, so be prepared to see some less than fair displays from both sides. Also expect a close game for this first leg. If the match is anything like last year’s Copa del Rey final, then extra time and penalties may not be too far off after the return leg at Camp Nou. However, according to what happened the last time these two teams met, for a league game in the Santiago Bernabéu, Barcelona should be more than able to rally against a tough crowd and pull-off the win as well as some crucial away goals.
Real Madrid CF1-2 FC Barcelona
Image Source: Getty Images