For the fifth time this season, FC Barcelona prepare to take on Real Madrid, although this time there is a place in the Copa del Rey final up for grabs. Should Barcelona keep Los Blancos off the scoresheet, they will progress to the final for the second successive season – no matter the result at the Camp Nou – while Real Madrid can guarantee their place in the final with a victory, or a high scoring draw. However, even after four Clasicos in 2012/13, there is little to choose between the two sides. Of course the Blaugrana are sixteen points clear of Real Madrid in the race for La Liga, but they haven’t been able to extend this dominance to the Clasico, notching just one win in their last six against Cristiano Ronaldo and co. – not that we should place too much importance on a victory achieved in the first-leg of an aggregate defeat in the Supercopa de España.
While B team starlet Alex Grimaldo suffered a season-ending knee injury at the weekend, the first team managed to stay healthy over the course of the last match-day and even welcome back Adriano who missed the last two games with a thigh complaint. Even with a squad of 23 to select his starting XI from, Jordi Roura would arguably be best served by simply choosing the same ten outfield players that started against AC Milan – more on that later.
Jose Manuel Pinto will start in goal for the Blaugrana and surprisingly enough, the veteran Spaniard boasts a better record than Valdés having conceded just six times in his eight appearances this season. That includes four matches where the Zamora-winning keeper has kept a clean sheet; not bad for a back-up.
Moving onto the defense, Dani Alves is expected to start at right-back following his assist against Sevilla, although he may face competition from the returning Adriano. That being said, is Roura prepared to risk Adriano knowing his record with injuries? In the heart of defense, Gerard Piqué should start alongside Carles Puyol – they are without doubt Barça’s best centre-back pairing after all. Javier Mascherano looks to be improving, but remains someway off his best; which quite simply isn’t enough to secure him a starting berth. Jordi Alba’s form on the other hand has started to slow down following a superb start to his Barça career – possibly due to fatigue, so it’s just as well that he sat out Saturday’s win over Sevilla. With any luck, Alba will be back to his marauding best tomorrow; God knows we could do with someone to provide the width on the left.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets will start at pivote and there’s little debate as to who will start in midfield with him: Xavi Hernández is a dead-cert, while it would be a surprise to see anyone other than Cesc Fàbregas start alongside him. Yes, that would mean Andrés Iniesta starting in attack, a move which many are likely to oppose following last week’s defeat at the San Siro; but it’s also worth noting that Barcelona do not need to win – and theoretically, they could pass their way to the final.
Lionel Messi will start in attack following a reported bust-up with Alvaro Arbeloa in the first-leg, and it’s worth remembering that Leo is just two goals away from El Clasico history. Should he score a brace tomorrow, he will usurp Alfredo di Stefano as the leading goal-scorer in El Clasico history. Already the all-time leader in goals created; wouldn’t it be excellent if Messi could make history at the Camp Nou? But who starts in attack with the Argentine superstar? Pedro is the favourite, while the left-wing spot is between Iniesta and David Villa; at this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
Pepe noted that Real Madrid (who almost have a full complement of players to choose from, bar Iker Casillas and one or two others) will have to remain true to their style tomorrow if they are to progress to the final, so expect a thoroughly combative match at the Camp Nou. If Barcelona can survive the opening onslaught of Madrid pressure, they will fancy their chances, but concede an early goal and well, that’d make things unnecessarily difficult...
Real Madrid: DLWDWW
Real Madrid 1-1 FC Barcelona – 30th January 2013 – Copa del Rey
To think that some Culés were disappointed with this first-leg draw...with an away goal to their name – courtesy of Cesc Fàbregas’ 50th minute strike – Barcelona put themselves in a commanding position ahead of the second-leg at the Camp Nou even if Raphael Varane did grab a late equaliser.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Lopez; Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Arbeloa; Khedira, Alonso; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema
Barcelona haven’t been at their mesmeric best recently, but at the Camp Nou, with a place in the Copa del Rey final up for grabs – I’d back them to pull through. I’m going for an overly optimistic 3-1 win, if only because it would let us bring on Abidal for a late cameo.