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One of the biggest games in club football returns, with the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final set to be another blockbuster fixture
El Clasico is back, with Barcelona playing host to Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final at Camp Nou.
The Catalans have had to work tremendously hard to get themselves into this position, notably staging a stunning second-leg comeback against Sevilla last week, while Madrid’s progress to this juncture has been rather more serene.
Having lost the first match of each of their last two ties, Barca will have to be on the mettle from the beginning on Wednesday or face their biggest challenge yet as they strive for their 31st triumph in the tournament.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Wednesday, January 6
8:00pm GMT / 3pm ET
TV Channel, Live Stream & How To Watch
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Squads & Team News
|Goalkeepers||Ter Stegen, Ezkieta|
|Defenders||Pique, Semedo, Lenglet, Alba, Chumi, Vermaelen, Roberto, Todibo, Jeison|
|Midfielders||Rakitic, Busquets, Coutinho, Arthur, Vidal, Boateng, Samper, Alena|
|Forwards||L. Suarez, Dembele, Malcom, Messi|
Lionel Messi’s fitness remains the biggest question mark for the home team ahead of the first leg. The Argentine sustained a thigh issue during the weekend’s 2-2 draw against Valencia – in which he scored twice – and has missed training this week. He has, however, been included in the 19-man squad, though Ousmane Dembele has not
Possible Barcelona starting XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
|Position||Real Madrid squad|
|Goalkeepers||Navas, Casilla, Courtois|
|Defenders||Carvajal, Vallejo, Ramos, Nacho, Varane, Marcelo, Odriozoloa, Reguilon|
|Midfielders||Kroos, Modric, Casemiro, Valverde, Vazquez, Llorente, Asensio, Isco, Ceballos, B. Diaz|
|Forwards||Marcelo, Benzema, Bale, Vinicius Junior|
Possible Real Madrid starting XI: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Vinicius
While La Liga and the Champions League may be the main target for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, having been paired together in the Copa del Rey, suddenly the knockout competition has taken on a new importance.
The rivalry between these clubs runs deep and both will be determined to reach the final in Seville, which will be played on May 25.
Throughout this competition, the respective teams have typically been shuffled to allow the star men to rest for the more important league matches, though that logic will now go out of the window for these clashes.
Indeed, Barcelona already seemed to be thinking ahead to this match as they struggled to find their best form against Valencia at the weekend, fighting back to draw 2-2 but potentially losing their ace in Lionel Messi due to injury for this fixture.
Nevertheless, on paper, it is Barca who hold the upper hand. They boast a six-point lead at the summit of the Primera Division ahead of Atletico Madrid and are eight marks clear of Real, having shown greater consistency over the season to date.
Indeed, when the teams played earlier this term, Barca swept to a stunning 5-1 victory, without Messi, which proved the end of Julen Lopetegui in the Madrid hotseat, paving the way for Santiago Solari to take interim charge.
Moreover, the manner in which Barca swept aside Sevilla 6-1 in the second leg of their quarter-final last week was utterly formidable and signified a team coming to the peak of its power.
Nevertheless, the capital side are bullish about their prospects of causing an upset.
“I play at Real Madrid, the best team in the world,” Vinicius Junior said ahead of the fixture. “I do not fear anything.”
Historically, Barcelona have gotten the better of the Clasico, which was first played in 1929, with 113 overall wins to Real Madrid’s 99. Meanwhile, there have been 60 draws.
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As Los Blancos go chasing a historic 100th victory in the fixture, these are encounters that mean more to them, especially Solari, who is doing his best to show the board that he is worth the coaching job on a full-time basis.
Barcelona, meanwhile, are the undoubted kings of the cup, having appeared in 23 successive rounds of the competition. Indeed, the last time they were knocked out before the final was February 2013, when Madrid beat them 4-2 on aggregate.
The four-time defending champions will not want history to repeat itself.