Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will face off Wednesday night at the Camp Nou stadium for a shot at the Copa del Rey final. This is the fifth and last El Clásico of the season, and is gearing up to be an interesting match, as both teams have performed strongly in parallel tournaments.
In LaLiga, with 11 matches to go, Barcelona holds a 12-point lead over Madrid. In the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona has been eliminated for a second year in a row, and Madrid is poised to take home its 15th championship and secure its position as the most successful team in the UCL.
For Madrid, Wednesday’s match in Barcelona’s Camp Nou is both a chance to get payback against Barça and to play in the final of the Copa del Rey, a tournament which is more traditionally associated with the Catalan team. For Barça, winning the match would bring them one step closer to taking home the much-sought after treble — the Super Cup, LaLiga and Copa del Rey — a feat that would boost the team as it struggles with a scandal stemming from million-dollar payments made to a company linked to Spanish referee José María Enríquez Negreira.
And for Barcelona, there is no better way to restore its damaged reputation than beating Madrid. So far this season, Madrid has lost three of its four matches against the Catalan team. Barça won the Super Cup (1-3), the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals (0-1) and the LaLiga match at Camp Nou (2-1). It only lost to Madrid (3-1) in the El Clásico at Bernabéu stadium in Madrid. Barcelona has overcome adversity, optimized its resources and capitalized on the emotional charge of Camp Nou. While the team says it’s impervious to the dramas of the club, it has also been psychologically strong and flexible in the field, which is important given that they will be going into Wednesday’s game without some of its key players: Pedri, Ousmane Dembélé, Andreas Christensen and Frenkie de Jong.
“Our goal is to be in control and play to win and not draw despite coming into it 0-1 in the first leg,” said Barça trainer Xavi Hernández Creus, who insisted that Madrid is the “favorite” to win. “When’s the last time they lost a playoff?” asked Xavi, as he is popularly known. In this case, the answer is 2021, when Madrid lost against Chelsea. “They are under more pressure,” he continued. “We feel confident. We want twice the joy: reaching a final and beating Madrid.”
Madrid is coming into the match in a better position than the last time they played at Camp Nou. It has brought back its game and is counting on a near-full team — only Férland Mendy will remain on the sidelines due to injury. “Tomorrow [Wednesday] it’s our turn to win,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, who has experience in high-stakes matches and says he intends to have a good game “without going crazy about scoring and being attentive to details.”
Working in Madrid’s favor are players such as Karim Benzema, who is in excellent form, scoring three goals in under seven minutes, Rodrygo Silva de Goes, who has proved to be a very strong forward, and Antonio Rüdiger, who has bounced back from injury.
Barça, for its part, is focusing on team effort and its ability to adapt to Madrid. Since it’s chosen a fourth midfielder instead of a third striker — Raphinha and Dembélé played in October — Ronald Araújo was able to mark Madrid’s Vinícius Jr.
Barça is set to recreate the same scene of its LaLiga match: there will be no mosaic (when spectators hold up colored sheets of paper to create a bigger image), nor is a lunch between planned, and Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez is once again also not likely to attend the match at Camp Nou. In any case, few matches raise as many expectations as El Clásico, and this Copa del Rey match will be the last El Clásico of the 2022-2023 season.
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