Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Preview and Prediction
Two behemoths of Spanish football, Barcelona and their arch nemesis Real Madrid are set to add the latest chapter to their historic rivalry as the two clubs gear up for their fifth meeting this season in the second leg of Copa del Rey at Camp Nou on April 6, Thursday.
The Catalans have a 1-0 lead on aggregate having won the previous fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu courtesy of an own goal from Eder Militao.
Los Blancos need to come up with a strong response or their hopes of winning their first Spanish Cup title since the 2013-14 season could be dashed. Coincidentally, they had defeated the Blaugrana in the final through Gareth Bale’s iconic dash that left Marc Bartra chasing shadows. Whichever team prevails on aggregate will get to face either Osasuna or Athletic Bilbao in the summit clash.
For Xavi’s men, Copa del Rey and La Liga are the only two titles they can win this season after their elimination from the Europa League. In the league, Barca has opened up a 12-point lead over their El Clasico rivals and they are one stalemate away from a place in the Spanish Cup final.
Things haven’t been smooth sailing for them considering the off-field issues but they do tend to turn on the swagger on the pitch as seen in the 4-0 demolition of Elche on Sunday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side meanwhile has saved their best for the Champions League (no surprises here) but they have struggled domestically. However, they come into the semi-final’s second leg after a statement 6-0 victory over Real Valladolid.
Crucially their main man Karim Benzema looks to have recovered from his injury woes and scored a hattrick over the weekend, fans of the All-Whites would be hoping for a similar inspirational performance.
While both sides come into this fixture on the back of convincing wins, the Blaugrana have fared much better when it comes to domestic competitions. In the league, they sit pretty atop the La Liga standings with 71 points from 27 games, having lost just one match in their past five outings.
Los Blancos on the other hand are in second place with 59 points from 27 outings, but they have only won two of their last five matches. After Manchester United dumped Barca out of the Europa League, followed by a 0-1 defeat to Almeria, Xavi’s men have won five games on the trot. Ancelotti’s side endured a 2-1 defeat at the hands of their Clasico rivals in the league before the international break.
They were held by Atletico Madrid and Real Betis in recent weeks and barring the demolition of Liverpool in the Champions League, Los Blancos haven’t looked convincing, which is partly down to their inability to break down opposition defenses with Benzema battling through injuries.
When it comes to the past record of the two great eternal powers of Spanish football, they’ve met each other on 253 occasions in competitive fixtures. A further 34 exhibition games have also been played between the El Clasico rivals.
Talking strictly about the competitive games, Los Blancos have prevailed 101 times, and the Blaugrana also have 101 wins including the most recent triumph in La Liga. 52 matches have ended all square between them.
Xavi’s men come into this fixture with just four key players missing through injury, Pedri (hamstring), Ousmane Dembele (hamstring), Frenkie de Jong (hamstring), and Andreas Christensen (calf) are all expected to miss the last El Clasico this season, Raphinha is available for selection after completing his suspension but he is likely to remain on the bench.
Ancelotti meanwhile would be sweating over the availability of Antonio Rudiger, the German missed the win over Valladolid with knee discomfort. He remains doubtful, although Nacho is back from suspension and could fill in for Rudiger while Ferland Mendy (calf) has suffered a fresh setback. Also, Mariano Diaz sustained an unspecified setback in training but he most probably would have been on the bench anyway.
Los Blancos are expected to start in their familiar 4-3-3 with Thibaut Courtois in goal, and Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Militao, and David Alaba in front of him.
The midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Aurelien Tchouameni will be key, and Federico Valverde is likely to partner the deadly duo of Benzema and Vinicius Jr up front.
The Blaugrana are expected to have a similar-looking side which thrashed Elche, the ever-reliant Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be between the sticks, protected by Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo, Marcos Alonso, and Jordi Alba.
Franck Kessie will partner Sergio Busquets and Gavi in the engine room, and the front three will remain the same, featuring Ansu Fati, Robert Lewandowski, and Ferran Torres.
Predicted Starting XIs
Barcelona (4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo, Marcos Alonso, Jordi Alba; Franck Kessie, Sergio Busquets, Gavi; Ansu Fati, Robert Lewandowski, Ferran Torres.
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Eder Militao, David Alaba; Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Aurelien Tchouameni; Federico Valverde, Karim Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
All things considered, the Catalans will start the fixture as favourites, they have a slender lead, Xavi has gotten the better of Ancelotti in recent games, and Barca will be in their own backyard. They will be favourites to reach the Copa del Rey final.