Real Madrid CF vs FC Barcelona
Competition/Round: 2022-23 Copa del Rey, Semi-Finals, First Leg
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Robert Lewandowski, Pedri, Ousmane Dembélé (out), Andreas Christensen (doubt)
Real Madrid Outs & Doubts: David Alaba, Ferland Mendy (out)
Date/Time: Thursday, March 2, 2023, 9pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8pm GMT (UK), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Friday)
Venue: Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
Referee: José Luis Munuera Montero
VAR: José Luis González González
How to watch on TV: Not Available (USA, Canada, India), BT Sport 1 (UK), Startimes World Football (Nigeria), TVE La 1, Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), others
Following a disaster away game against Almería and their second loss in a row to end February, Barcelona begin March with a brutal challenge on the road as they travel to the Spanish capital to meet Real Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final tie at the Santiago Bernabéu in the latest edition of El Clásico.
Last week was a tough one for Barça with elimination in Europe and their first league defeat since the World Cup, and to make matters worse they lost Robert Lewandowski for at least the next two matches with a hamstring injury. Now Barça enter a crucial stretch of games before the international break without their top scorer and their two most creative players in Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé who are also out with injury.
Barça face Valencia at home and Athletic Bilbao on the road in La Liga before what could very well be a title decider against Real Madrid at Camp Nou in three weeks, but the good news is all three injured players are expected back for that crucial Clásico. They won’t be around for this one, however, and Madrid will be really hungry for a win on Thursday.
Not only are Los Blancos looking to use the home field advantage to get a strong first leg result to take to Camp Nou when they meet again in April, they are looking for some revenge after being thoroughly embarrassed by Barça in the Spanish Super Cup Final in Saudi Arabia back in January.
Barça were flying high then, winning their first trophy under Xavi Hernández and looking like a real force with an incredible defense and a fast, efficient attack. Things have changed drastically over the last six weeks, and the Blaugrana have very little hope of winning at the Bernabéu with their three biggest attacking weapons not available.
Simply put, Barça’s job is to survive on Thursday and avoid losing by a big enough margin that would render the second leg useless. If Ronald Araujo has another dominant night against Vinicius Junior and the midfield can control the pace like they did in January, the Catalans have a shot at keeping it a low-scoring, hard-fought game without a winner or maybe even pull off the big upset.
But the defensive structure might be missing a crucial piece in Andreas Christensen, who is dealing with an ankle issue and will test himself before making the decision to play. The Dane has completely changed Barça’s defense and his potential absence at the Bernabéu would be a huge deal. If he can’t go, the Blaugrana’s chances are greatly diminished.
Barça are the underdogs in this one considering their form and the injuries, and it might be wise to prepare in advance for a bit of a tough night. This could be a bad loss, but if the team can fight and keep this close, it would be a massive confidence boost ahead of three gigantic league games.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Kessie, Busquets, De Jong; Raphinha, Ferran, Gavi
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militão, Rüdiger, Nacho; Modric, Camavinga, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius
Barça’s job in this one is just to survive the environment and end the bad run of results with a confidence-building performance: 1-1 draw.