Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Barcelona | Copa del Rey
The last El Clasico of the season at Santiago Bernabeu kicks off on Thursday night as Real Madrid and Barcelona face off in the first leg of the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey. The two teams will lock horns twice more this season, but both will happen at Spotify Camp Nou.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side lost to Barcelona the last time around when the two rivals met in the final of the Supercopa de Espana. Revenge will be on the minds, but will surely not be the only agenda on the night.
Coming off a stale draw against Atletico Madrid at the same venue, Real Madrid will be determined to get their campaign back on track. Interestingly, however, the same storyline applies to Barcelona too.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Thursday’s Clasico.
1. A golden chance
The odds could not be more skewed in Real Madrid’s favour ahead of a Clasico. Such is the situation that Xavi Hernandez himself called the Merengues favourites ahead of Thursday’s showdown, and his words are understandable for a plethora of reasons.
For starters, the European champions play hosts on the night. With the fans behind their back and chants ringing through their ears in the numbing atmosphere, Los Blancos will be at the peak of their powers.
More important, however, is the consideration of Barcelona’s situation in the build-up to the game. On the night, Xavi will be without three of his most important pillars. Further, the Spanish manager has very few options in attack with close to no resources on the bench.
Pedri has been at the centre of Barcelona’s success throughout the campaign but limped off injured in the team’s clash with Manchester United. The youngster will miss the first of three Clasicos and is still a doubt for the second meeting in three weeks’ time.
The blow in midfield is massive, but nothing compared to the situation in the attack. Barcelona’s brightest players, Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembele will miss the game at Bernabeu leaving Xavi in a state of pauperism.
Keeping the opponents’ handicaps in mind, the tie on Thursday is Real Madrid’s to lose. Yet, the men in white must not let down their guard in complacency.
2. The midfield dilemma
The biggest takeaway from Ancelotti’s press conference ahead of the Clasico was the manager’s uncertainty over the midfield. When quizzed about his approach against Barcelona, he revealed the practical difficulties involved in deciding the lineup.
Barcelona boasts some of the most dynamic players in the middle of the park. Though Pedri’s absence is a big blow, the Blaugrana have some serious candidates in Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets and Gavi.
The last time the two sides faced off, the Catalans dominated the midfield battle purely through their coordinated pressing and superior stamina. Thus arises the perpetual question in Ancelotti’s head – experience or youth?
It is imperative for Real Madrid’s success that Toni Kroos and Luka Modric stay on the field. After all, it is close to impossible to compensate for the absence of experience.
Yet, at the same time, Ancelotti requires young and active feet on the field to counter Barcelona’s upcoming stars. That facet is only provided by the likes of Eduardo Camavinga and Dani Ceballos.
The manager’s decisions do not end there. In recent weeks, Eduardo Camavinga’s stocks at the Bernabeu have shot through the roof, bringing Ancelotti to a difficult question. Should Camavinga or Aurelien Tchouameni start as the pivot on the night?
All three midfield positions seem to be undecided upon heading into the Clasico, and needless to say, the manager’s decision will play a big part in the final result.
3. The need to capitalise
It is often best to strike when the iron is hot for the effort it requires to achieve the same result if unnecessarily delayed is often not worth it. Real Madrid are in a relatable situation considering the overall tie.
The home leg is always the vital and favourable half of a two-legged tie. Taking into account Barcelona’s struggles heading into the clash, the Merengues have the perfect chance to kill off the game with a dominant performance.
Nothing less than a win will suffice on Thursday night, for Xavi will have all his injured players back under his command for the second leg in April. To expect the team to head to Catalonia with the odds so far on their side would be plain over-optimism.
Looking beyond the Copa del Rey, Thursday brings Real Madrid’s best chance to break Barcelona’s confidence and momentum. The Azulgranas have lost their last two games across all competitions, and a third defeat could be their undoing even in La Liga.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid
Real Madrid take on Real Valladolid on Sunday as they return to La Liga action for the first time since the El Clasico defeat. The game at the Santiago Bernabeu will be crucial as a defeat for Real Madrid at this stage could seal the league title for their arch-rivals.
Their opponents on the day, Valladolid, sit in 15th place in La Liga with 28 points from 26 games. They have won only eight games so far in the league, losing 14 in the process.
There are this several key points to consider before the Merengues’ game at the weekend and the restart of club football. Madrid Universal brings you three such points.
1. Left-back issues persist
It was in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey that Ferland Mendy hobbled off injured. The Frenchman was out of action for close to two months from the last week of January, leaving Carlo Ancelotti without a natural backup.
The manager thus attempted to bridge the gap with the likes of Nacho Fernandez and Eduardo Camavinga, given that David Alaba was simultaneously experiencing fitness troubles of his own.
The makeshift left-backs did a reasonable job but were far from perfect. Time and time again, it became clear that oppositions were targetting the Merengues at their Achilles heel.
In Real Madrid’s clash against Barcelona in La Liga, Mendy made a return, coming on late in the second half in an effort to push for a winner. The impact of his arrival was evident, for there was a sudden awakening on the left flank in the final phase of the game.
Just when it seemed like he was set for a complete return, Mendy suffered an unfortunate setback once again. A blow to his left soleus muscle sees him out of action for another month at least, piling up the problems for Ancelotti.
It could thus be David Alaba who starts at left-back when Los Blancos play Real Valladolid, given that Nacho is suspended. Up against the tricky teenager Ivan Fresneda, the Austrian, who is returning from an injury, could face a tricky challenge.
2. Time is money
The international break is the biggest bane in club football because of the sheer disruption in the rhythm that it brings about.
The chemistry between the players is one of the most critical elements in professional football. That, however, only comes with repeated matches played with the same team with no breaks. For the players to switch setup to a whole different team for a matter of two weeks has historically proven detrimental to the club’s chemistry on the field.
Real Madrid did not end their last phase on a good note. However, the team played good football even in the Clasico defeat and had just beaten Liverpool before that.
For Los Blancos to live on in all competitions, it is crucial that they pick up where they left off before the international break in terms of quality. Heading into the first game of the restart, all eyes will be on the team’s chemistry.
Ancelotti’s men do not have a lot of time. They play three must-win games against quality opposition within a month – two UCL games against Chelsea and the cup semifinal against Barcelona. Thus, they cannot afford to waste much time regaining their lost understanding on the field. Time, after all, is money.
3. To compete or not to compete: That is the question
Owing to the defeat to Barcelona in the last matchday and the Catalans’ win over Elche on Saturday, Real Madrid sit 15 points behind league leaders Barcelona. There remain only 12 games in the league this season and a comeback for the men in white seems improbable.
Real Madrid thus face an important crossroad. One option for the club would be to forfeit the league mentally and utilise the remaining games to rotate important players and focus on UEFA Champions League and Spanish Cup. After all, they are the events where the team stands a higher chance of glory.
On the contrary would be the choice of giving all attractions the same importance. In such a situation, it would be difficult for the team to manage given the right schedule. Will Ancelotti’s men choose to sacrifice La Liga for the other competitions? Or will be a fight on all fronts? Only time will tell.