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Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Barcelona | Copa del Rey

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Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

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.

Ancelotti has a selection dilemma in midfield (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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.

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Features

Real Madrid’s best lineup next season with Kroos retiring, Mbappe and Endrick joining

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Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

It is set up to be a transformative summer for Real Madrid. After the UEFA Champions League final has concluded and the grand showdown finally has a victor, the Merengues are expected to undergo a squad revamp.

Indeed, the Santiago Bernabeu is preparing to welcome several high-profile signings, while also bidding farewell to some beloved Madrid legends.

Considering the potential arrivals of Kylian Mbappe and Endrick, as well as Toni Kroos’ recent retirement, here is how Real Madrid could shape up next season:

Goalkeeper

Having made a long-awaited return from injury, Thibaut Courtois is anticipated to guard Real Madrid’s goal next season once more.

The Belgian goalie has already started featuring in the starting XI and is expected to play against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final, too.

As such, his place for next season is hardly in doubt. However, unlike previous seasons, he will face much fiercer competition from Andriy Lunin, who has enjoyed a stellar campaign.

Defence

Fortifications in the defensive line remain high on Real Madrid’s priority list in the upcoming summer transfer window. However, even with the given options the Royal Whites boast assurance and grit in their back-line.

The likely occupants on the flanks would be Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy, who have both produced great exhibitions throughout the campaign.

Ferland Mendy has the full trust of Carlo Ancelotti. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Carvajal is known to punish defensive lines and on the defensive end, his anticipation of forwards has been equally appreciable.

Meanwhile, Mendy’s resurgence this season has earned him immense faith from the coaching staff, as his defensive aptitude continues to set him apart.

In the centre-back positions, Real Madrid are expected to rely on the dependable figures of Antonio Rudiger and Eder Militao.

Real Madrid consider Rudiger to be indispensable owing to his front-footed style and the important role he has had to play amidst the injury crisis. Similarly, Militao is valued by the team as he proceeds to regain match fitness after recovering from a long-term injury.

Midfield

The void of Toni Kroos in midfield will compel coach Carlo Ancelotti and co. to
reconsider their midfield strategy.

Real Madrid will be unable to count on Kroos next season. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Thankfully for Real Madrid, their succession stage had begun a while ago and they have ample options to trust in the center of the park.

With Aurelien Tchouameni protecting the base of midfield, Real Madrid will possess security and deep progression.

Ahead, occupying the interior midfield positions, Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga are well-suited to provide a combination of energy off the ball and threat in possession.

And to put the cherry on top, Jude Bellingham’s place as the number 10 behind the two strikers would certify his status as a pivotal playmaker and scorer in the team’s setup.

However, he is adept at making third-man runs and connecting the midfield with the offence and could play deeper to not only make up for Kroos’ absence but also facilitate more options up front.

Attack

Real Madrid’s offensive department is where the largest reform is expected to take place.

Kylian Mbappe’s goalscoring instincts need little introduction by now and he is thus anticipated to be fielded as the striker.

Vinicius Jr. is expected to take up the position as a secondary striker drifting from the left, something he has become quite accustomed to this season.

Endrick will have to battle for a starting spot. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

It is worth noting that Endrick could also play a part by either replacing Vinicius off the bench and playing off Mbappe.

It remains to be seen how many men forward Ancelotti will commit to but the presence of Mbappe and Vinicius seems set in stone, given their huge profiles and status in world football. How the manager uses Rodrygo Goes will be interesting to see as well.

All in all, considering Ancelotti’s proficiency in profiling players, Madrid fans can expect to see these stars play in favourable environments.

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