Our football expert takes a look at one of the fiercest rivalries in world football with El Classico rivals Barcelona against Real Madrid this Thursday, vying for a spot in the Copa Del Rey final. The first leg takes place at the Bernabeu, the home of Real Madrid.
Although recent form has not been pleasing for Barcelona, their league campaign can’t be faulted, comfortably top of the league 7 points clear of closest rivals Madrid. Barca failed to capitalise on an opportunity to extend the gap to 10 points on the weekend, losing 1-0 away to 15th placed Almeria. This was Barcelona’s first league defeat this year and the first time they’ve ever lost to Almeria. The result will no doubt give Madrid a much needed league boost. Keeping the deficits to only 7 points, it’s a potential lifeline with an upcoming league game between the teams still to play. The shock league result followed an early Europa league exit, with a 4-3 aggregate defeat to Manchester United.
They were without their young starlets Gavi and Pedri for their second leg tie against United, as well as World Cup finalist Ousmane Dembele. Although Gavi returns following suspension, Barca have been hit with a huge injury blow, with striker Lewandowski ruled out of the tie following a minor hamstring injury picked up against Almeria.
Madrid prepared for the tie with much better performances in Europe. Los Blancos easily dismantled last year’s champions league final opponents, Liverpool, 5-2 at Anfield. They then endured a tough game against derby rivals Atletico Madrid, earning a hard fought point in a 1-1 draw. Ahead of the first leg, Madrid face less injury struggles than their opponents, but will be without David Alaba after picking up a knock in their game against Liverpool. It’s a blow for Madrid, but Alaba will most likely be replaced at left back by Spanish international Nacho, a very capable replacement.
Surprisingly, Madrid havent won the Copa Del Rey in 9 years. Since Madrid’s last Copa triumph in 2014, Barcelona have lifted the trophy on 5 occasions. In the competition’s history, Barcelona have been by far the most successful side, lifting the trophy on 33 occasions, followed by Athletic Bilbao’s 23 and Real Madrid’s 19 trophies. The Copa Del Rey is a competition Madrid haven’t always had the best success in compared to La Liga and other domestic cups, so they’ll be hoping to add another to the tally this season.
Madrid will be hoping to add to Barcelona’s recent struggles, and rightfully go into the game as favourites. Barcelona did beat Real 3-1 in their most recent match up in January, but will be without 3 of that starting 11 this time, with Lewandowski, Pedri and Dembele all out. Although the tie should be close between the two sides, Barcelona’s recent struggles with injuries and with Madrid’s recent form and renewed hope in the league, I’d be behind Real to edge the first leg at home. They are available at odds of 1.91 to take the first leg.
The first leg of the other semi final, Osasuna vs Athletic Bilbao takes place a day before the Barcelona Madrid match on March 1st. Both Barca and Madrid will be strong favourites in the final, so if an outright bet takes your interest, you can get 2.54 on Barcelona to lift the trophy, with Madrid available at the bigger price of 2.94.