Barcelona and Real Madrid are squaring off in El Clasico, this time the rivalry are meeting in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday. The game was moved up because of Champions League semi-finals next week, and that could be working against Real Madrid who will be without superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Cristiano Ronaldo will not be there. We know that since this morning,” Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said at his prematch news conference on Tuesday, via ESPN FC.
“Cristiano is not available to play as we do not want to take risks as we have other important games this season. He will train tomorrow and then travel with the squad to Valencia. But we have many players and this team has always reacted well to absences, and we will do it again tomorrow.”
Ancelotti has several options to replace Ronaldo like Isco, who is attack-minded, but he isn’t tipping his hand.
“I have decided [which player will start] but I am not going to say it,” he said. “Cristiano’s absence makes everyone more motivated. We have played very well in games he’s missed, worked more, and run more. Tomorrow there will be no problem in terms of motivating the players — they are very excited about the game. I am sure we have prepared very well and are going to play very well tomorrow.”
FC Barcelona’s Andrés Iniesta doesn’t think Ronaldo’s absence will have a large impact on the game, suggesting instead that Madrid will simply reload.
“We know that much of our season depends on this game. Every title is a percentage of the season”, Iniesta told the club’s website.
“When we got o sleep we need to have clear consciences, to feel that we did all we could to win. Madrid’s general idea won’t change without Ronaldo. We know their strong points, we understand their potential”
Madrid’s lost to Barcelona in late March caused them to drop in the La Liga table. Since then they’ve recovered and are currently in second place, three points behind Atletico Madrid and one point ahead of Barcelona. This game is a Copa del Rey game and won’t impact the La Liga table but Ancelotti thinks getting their hands on this trophy can be a jumping off point for the rest of the season, inspiring his squad to finish strong.
“On a mental level, I think [the final] will be very important,” Ancelotti told Madrid’s official website. “I think after this game, the side that wins will have more motivation, illusion and desire to play their best until the end of the season. I think from a mental point of view, it will be very important.
“Firstly, it is the first title of the season that we can win. Secondly, because we will take on a great side like Barcelona. All of this gives the game a lot of importance. The possibility of winning the first trophy of the season is motivation for us.”
As for that 3-4 loss Madrid suffered in late March, Ancelotti thinks that is behind them.
“I don’t think that there will be a psychological advantage for what happened in the past,” he said. “The present is a complicated game for both Barcelona and Real Madrid. We have to play well, with excitement, motivation and with a lot of concentration to try and win it.”
“We have chances with the three players to be able to count on some of them,” coach Gerardo Martino told his prematch news conference on Tuesday, via ESPN FC. “They responded well at training [on Tuesday morning], but we will wait until tomorrow before deciding.
“If the decision is that Puyol plays, it will be a big lift for the team and for his teammates. From what I have seen at training today, Bartra is much better, but no player will play unless he is fit and ready.”
Both teams have success with the Copa Del Rey, Barcelona having won the trophy 26 times while Real Madrid has won it 18 times. Martino reiterated that there is nothing routine about finals, especially when playing a rival like Madrid.
“This is a final, and is a game in a different context… Finals are there to be won” Martino told the club’s website. “There is nothing routine about playing finals. They are our objective. The players are used to playing finals, but it doesn’t make them any less important. The cup is not something to be ignored, we want to win this as much as we would want to win any final.”
It certainly will be an entertaining match up with things getting testy between the two teams the last time the sides met. There was an incident where it appeared that Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets had stepped on the head of Madrid’s Pepe, though Busquets denied doing it and any intention later. The Barca boss expects this game to be just as exciting and thrilling as their league matches earlier this season.
“We’ve had some nice, open games, with both teams playing well. They’ve been exiting and honest matches” Martino said. “But this is a different kind of game because there is a title directly at stake. We have to think about the good moments from the other games with Madrid. To have a chance of winning this game, we are going to have produce our very best football.”
Barcelona is coming into this match up in worse form than Madrid having lost their last two games, a shocking upset by Granada this past weekend and a loss to Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals that ended their title hopes there. Their first let against Atleti resulted in a draw, and the only win they have in the month of April came against Real Betis at home.
Madrid on the other hand have been cruising since their loss to two-game skid starting with the loss to Barcelona. They got on track with a 5-0 win against Rayo Vallecano at the end of March before beating a depleted Borussia Dortmund team 3-0 at home in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal pairing. Their lone loss this month was in the second leg against Dortmund, otherwise they’ve held Spanish competition to clean sheets in both La Liga games they’ve played this month while putting up four goals in both.
The momentum heading into this game is with Real Madrid, who haven’t given up a goal in the Copa del Rey since losing to Atletico Madrid last May, and they’re dealing with less injuries across the board despite being without Cristiano Ronaldo. I think Real Madrid is the favorite to win this game and bring the trophy back to the Bernabéu.