El Clasico foes Barcelona and Real Madrid renew hostilities at Spotify Camp Nou in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday evening.
The Spanish heavyweights clash for the fifth time this season, with the Catalan giants holding a 3-1 lead over Carlo Ancelotti’s Los Blancos.
Barca scraped to a 1-0 victory in the first leg courtesy of an Eder Militao own goal and will be hoping to finish off their historic rivals for a shot at Copa del Rey glory.
Madrid, who have been thwarted by the Blaugranas at every turn this season, will be hoping for a slice of sweet vengeance on enemy territory.
Trailing the runaway La Liga leaders by 12 points, Los Blancos are poised to relinquish their league crown at the end of the season.
However, Madrid will be keen to throw a spanner into Barca’s domestic treble plans, having already lost the Supercopa de Espana to Xavi Hernandez’s side in mid-January.
Having no European commitment at this stage of the season remains a blow for a club of Barca’s status, but Xavi’s side have used the extra time on their hands to ensure there are no slip-ups as they inch closer to the league title.
Since leaving Santiago Bernabeu with one foot in the Copa del Rey final, Barca have not looked back, winning their subsequent four La Liga games by a combined scoreline of 8-1.
Most of their offensive brilliance came against bottom-placed Elche, where the Blaugranas showed no mercy as goals from Robert Lewandowski (2), Ansumane Fati, and Ferran Torres condemned Los Franjiverdes to a 4-0 trouncing.
Having retained their 12-point advantage at the La Liga summit, Barca should enjoy a routine run to the league crown, especially with 11 games left to play.
However, the trophy-hungry Blaugranas will be keen to reach the Spanish cup final for the eighth time in ten campaigns.
They have put themselves in a strong position, having progressed from every semi-final tie after winning the first leg since the 2006-07 campaign.
Barca’s impeccable defensive record has been a hallmark of their campaign, and winning five games on the bounce while conceding just once in that run bodes well for their chances heading into Wednesday’s encounter.
Xavi’s side have also embarked on a nine-game unbeaten run on home turf, with their most recent victory in that sequence coming in a 2-1 success over Ancelotti’s side – their 100th win against their Clasico adversaries.
Madrid’s poor form against their rivals extended into the league, but Los Blancos responded with aplomb, smashing six past Real Valladolid in a confidence-boosting triumph at the weekend.
Rodrygo, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vasquez all registered, but Karim Benzema stole the spotlight with an astonishing seven-minute hat-trick to seal the game before the half-time interval.
The emphatic success is unlikely to have any effect on the title race, but Ancelotti’s side still have one crown to retain and will fancy their chances over a managerless Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, they will be keen to register a place in the Copa del Rey final for the first time since the 2013/14 campaign when they beat their midweek opponents in the final.
However, they will need to achieve a feat only German champions Bayern Munich have managed this season – beating Barca at Camp Nou – but their two-game winless run on their travels does not bode well for their chances.
Copa del Rey Form
Barcelona – WWWW
Real Madrid – WWWL
Xavi will be without Pedri (hamstring), Ousmane Dembele (hamstring), Frenkie de Jong (hamstring) and Andreas Christensen (calf), but Rahphinha is set to return to the fold having served his ban.
However, the Brazilian is unlikely to displace either Fati or Torres, with the Spanish duo making telling contributions in the victory over Elche.
Madrid will be without Ferland Mendy, who is out for six weeks with a calf injury despite just returning from a two-month lay-off with a thigh problem.
Ancelotti should be able to call on Antonio Rudiger, who missed the weekend success over Valladolid with knee discomfort.
The German centre-back has returned to training, although he’s yet to rejoin the squad, and his condition will be assessed over the next 48 hours.
Mariano Diaz also trained individually but is unlikely to play any part in the midweek clash.
Nacho Fernandez has also served a La Liga suspension and is available should the encounter come too soon for the returning Rudiger.
Barcelona potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo, Marcos Alonso, Alejandro Balde; Franck Kessie, Sergio Busquets, Gavi; Ferran Torres, Robert Lewandowski, Ansu Fati.
Real Madrid potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Lucas Vazquez, Eder Militao, Nacho Fernandez, David Alaba; Toni Kroos, Aurelien Tchouameni, Luka Modric; Federico Valverde, Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior.
We Say: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid (Agg: 2-2, both teams go to penalties)
Having already locked horns on four occasions this season, both managers will be all too familiar with the other’s game plan.
Barca have made Camp Nou a fortress, but Bayern showed it is not entirely impenetrable.
Madrid’s sheer determination for vengeance should propel them to victory, taking the game to extra time and penalties, where it’s anyone’s game.
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