Real Madrid host Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on Thursday night in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg. This is the first of three meetings between these giants in the next five weeks. The sides have met twice this season a 3-1 Madrid win in La Liga preceded a 3-1 Barcelona win in the Spanish Super Cup final.
Real Madrid Form
It has been a curious season for Los Blancos. They’ve largely been below their best and sit seven points behind Blaugrana in the title race with 15 matches left to play. The calendar year didn’t start in the best way with three losses in their first nine fixtures, including losing 3-1 to Barcelona in Saudi Arabia having been 3-0 down. There were further poor results in La Liga: a 0-0 home stalemate with Real Sociedad and a 1-0 loss at Mallorca.
The side have rallied since then, first winning the FIFA Club World Cup and then thrashing Elche 4-0 in La Liga. After a 2-0 win at Osasuna, trailed went to Anfield and humbled Liverpool 5-2 having trailed 2-0 after 14 minutes. With a few changes to their XI, they drew 1-1 at home to rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday. It needed a late header from 18-year-old substitute, Alvaro Rodriguez to rescue a point against ten men.
Real Madrid Team News
Real Madrid are set to be without Ferland Mendy at left back due to injury. His replacement in that role has been usual centre-back David Alaba, but he went off injured at Liverpool and is set for a month out. Nacho is expected to cover that role.
Rodrygo is another who is doubtful with a thigh injury sustained at Anfield, but he could return. Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni are both back from illness and could start. Luka Modric was only used for 30 minutes against Atletico and will come back into the XI fully fresh. Karim Benzema is expected to start despite the injury risk during this busy schedule.
Real Madrid Motivation
The motivation to win this first leg will be at 100%. They need a decent cushion to take to the Camp Nou in a month’s time and will attack their Clasico rivals.
Carlo Ancelotti is not going to be overly concerned with winning the possession battle and could sit quite deep to draw Barcelona onto them for the likes of Asensio, Rodrygo, and Vinicius to exploit space on the break.
After a 3-0 defeat at home to Bayern Munich in October, Xavi’s side hit a superb run. Their next 16 matches saw 14 wins, one cup draw with a win on penalties and just a single La Liga draw. In mid-January, they thrashed Los Blancos 3-1 to win the Spanish Super Cup before another seven successive victories with just one goal leaked.
A late goal then secured a disappointing 2-2 home draw with Man Utd in their Europa League first leg and the second leg was lost 2-1 at Old Trafford after a fine first half. Over the weekend, Barcelona missed the chance to go ten points clear of Real Madrid by losing 1-0 at Almeria with just a single shot on target.
Barcelona Team News
Some players who were rested in the Almeria defeat will return. That includes Jules Kounde, Alejandro Balde, and Ronald Araujo in defence, and Raphinha down the right wing.
Robert Lewandowski has injured his hamstring and missed this match up front. The key midfielder, Pedri is also out. Ousmane Dembele is close to a return and Ansu Fati could be rushed back to start after missing the last match. The attack could be Raphinha, Ferran Torres, and either Fati or Gavi.
Motivation will be high to try to reach the Copa del Rey final and add a second piece of silverware. With no European football to worry about, Xavi can give this cup his full attention.
With lots of injuries in the attack but a full-strength defence, Barca may be quite tight and cagey and look to leave Madrid with a draw. They’ll have some key men back for the second leg next month.
Real Madrid are unbeaten at home since April 2022
Real Madrid are 15 home La Liga matches without losing, winning 10
8 of Real’s last 11 home La Liga matches have seen Both Teams Scoring
Barcelona have lost their last 2 matches, having been 18 unbeaten before that
Barcelona have won 2 of their last 3 matches vs Real Madrid, scoring 8 goals
Barcelona have conceded just 8 goals in 23 La Liga matches this season
This should be a good match and I see both teams on target, as Barca tends to leak goals when they face elite opponents. Confidence may have been hit for Xavi’s side and they have some big injuries. I see Los Blancos taking a first-leg victory.