Three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Real Madrid | Copa del Rey semifinal
Real Madrid tore through Barcelona in the first El Clasico of the season when the two sides met at the Santiago Bernabeu in La Liga. The men in white outclassed their opponents, putting three goals past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The story from then on has not been as pleasant. A 3-1 defeat in the final of the Spanish Super Cup put pressure on Carlo Ancelotti while the subsequent defeat in the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg amplified the same. When Los Blancos lost the La Liga Clasico, talks of his firing began.
Real Madrid cannot afford to lose the last El Clasico of the season and will look to seal a spot in the Copa Del Rey final on Wednesday night, when they face Barcelona in the second leg of the semifinal at Camp Nou.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Real Madrid.
1. The kings of knockout games
No club in the world can claim to dominate knockout competitions the way Real Madrid do. The Spanish champions boast of a special record in must-win matches and last season’s UEFA Champions League serves as the ideal example.
Form has seldom been a factor for the Merengues in such games. Just last month, Ancelotti’s men, who were a wreck domestically, travelled to Anfield and took apart Liverpool in a 5-2 demolition. This, if anything, reinforces the fact that the men in white know their way around must-win fixtures.
The situation in Copa del Rey is no different. Los Blancos’ 1-0 defeat at home in the first leg sends them to Spotify Camp Nou requiring no less than two goals. A draw or loss would send them out of the competition and increase the chances of a disastrous trophyless season.
There is thus a need for Ancelotti’s men to channel their fighting spirit and come out all guns blazing on Wednesday night to keep their hopes of the elusive Copa del Rey alive. Can they break the three-match losing streak in Clasicos? Only time will tell.
2. Barcelona’s injury woes
Barcelona may have the home advantage for the decisive second leg. However, all is not well in the Catalan capital on the fitness front.
Barça will be without four of their regular starters for the game on Wednesday through injury in what comes as a big boost to Real Madrid’s chances of advancing.
For starters, star defender Andreas Christensen will be unavailable, forcing Xavi Hernandez into an unpleasant change in the working defensive formula. With Ronald Araujo deployed on the right side, there is the possibility of a weak link in central defence for Karim Benzema to exploit.
Ousmane Dembele is also set to miss the Clasico. The French winger was expected to be fit in time for the second leg but suffered a relapse which pushed his return date. Needless to say, his exclusion comes as a big relief to Carlo Ancelotti.
The Blaugrana, however, are the worst hit in midfield. Xavi will be without both Pedri and Frenkie de Jong against Real Madrid and will have to turn to their bench for replacements. Needless to say, the advantage in the all-important midfield is in the visitors’ favour.
If Real Madrid strategically plan and exploit Barcelona’s weaknesses at Spotify Camp Nou, a comeback is a real possibility. Yet, as statistics show, Ancelotti struggles against Xavi and it remains to be seen if he can outfox the Spanish tactician this time around.
3. Ever-decisive flanks
When the two Spanish giants met last month, it was Real Madrid’s right flank that desperately let them down. Despite Vini Jr’s desperate attempts down the left, there was virtually no life on the other side, thus easing Barcelona’s defensive work.
When one considers the lifeless right wing with Ronald Araujo’s valiant handling of Vinicius down the left, it is not difficult to see why Los Blancos have struggled in recent games against the Catalans.
The main motto of the game midweek for Ancelotti must thus be to stretch the play horizontally. Federico Valverde could thus start on the bench with the likes of Marco Asensio or Rodrygo joining Benzema and Vinicius in the final third.
Another key battle on the wing will be that of the Merengues‘ left-back against Barcelona’s Raphinha. Given Ferland Mendy’s injury, David Alaba, Eduardo Camavinga, or Nacho Fernandez are expected to start on the night. How they adapt to the role will count for so much of the Clasico result.
Real Madrid vs Athletic Club: End of an era, farewells, tight race for second place
Real Madrid will walk down the tunnel of Santiago Bernabeu one last time this season on Sunday night. The men in white are pitted against Athletic Club on their final match-day, and the game will not be an easy affair by any means.
The Basque side sit in seventh place on the league standings with 50 points in 37 appearances. However, their qualification for the UEFA Conference League is in danger with Osasuna lurking close behind with an equal number of points.
Anything less than a win could prove insufficient for the visitors and it is clear that they arrive at Santiago Bernabeu with nothing less than a win on their agenda. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Athletic Club Bilbao.
1. The end of an era for the number 9 shirt?
The grey area around Karim Benzema’s future has only widened in recent days. From a situation where his continuity at Real Madrid was taken for granted, it did not take long for the Frenchman’s story to enter a steep deviation.
An economically tempting proposal from Saudi Arabia had Benzema seriously contemplating a move away from Santiago Bernabeu, and reports stated that his departure from the Spanish club was close to complete.
The world, thus, looked in anticipation of his next official interaction with the media. The Ballon d’Or winner publicly addressed the topic for the first time earlier this week, and it is safe to say that his words gave nothing away.
Benzema neither confirmed nor completely refuted the rumours of his exit to the media. His situation is balanced on the blade of a knife and could tip in either direction.
In that sense, there is a good chance that tomorrow’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu is Karim Benzema’s final game for Real Madrid. If the striker does choose to change loyalties, it would mark the end of an era for the team’s number nine position.
It has been over a decade since the Frenchman took over the prestigious kit. He has played 647 games for the club so far in his career, scoring a stunning 353 goals in the process. Of them, 98 have been match-winning contributions.
2. A day of farewells
Earlier today, Real Madrid announced the departure of Marco Asensio from the club. The Spanish winger appears set to sign for PSG for the 2023-24 season and will bid adieu on Sunday. However, he will not be the only player playing his final game for the club tomorrow.
Nacho Fernandez has been a critical part of Real Madrid’s success in recent years but is another name close to sealing an exit. The defender is not satisfied with the playing time under his belt at the club and has not yet responded to the renewal offer on his table.
With his contract running out in less than 30 days, he appears closer to leaving than staying. One can expect an announcement from Nacho on Sunday night after the game at the Bernabeu, which could be his final game in white.
The situation with Dani Ceballos is quite similar. The Spanish midfielder is still undecided on his future, although there is still a slight chance he could continue at the club. Staying on the subject of players making their final appearance, however, he could be one on the list.
Away from the stories of incomplete renewal negotiations, Mariano Diaz is one player whose departure from the club is confirmed. Ferland Mendy, Jesus Vallejo, Alvaro Odriozola and Eden Hazard are some of the other candidates well-placed to make departures, although nothing can be said for sure.
3. A tight race for second place
There is not much to play for on Sunday night except for the emotional tag of it being the season’s final game. Yet, the men in white will not be without an objective against Athletic Club.
Los Blancos sit on 77 points in 37 league appearances this season and just have a one-point lead over third-placed Atletico Madrid. Needless to say, they must be vary of their position on the standings for any complacency could see them drop down the ladder.
Diego Simeone’s men take on fifth-placed Villarreal at the same time as Real Madrid’s game against Athletic Club. Even if Carlo Ancelotti’s men settle for a draw against the Basque side, the second place would be Atletico Madrid’s to lose.
With both games kicking off simultaneously, there will be nerves throughout the ninety minutes in Madrid. One can only hope for action-filled games to keep the anxiety and adrenaline high.