Real Madrid and Valencia begin a stretch of three straight matches against each other with a Copa del Rey clash on Tuesday. It's the first leg of the Spanish Cup quarterfinals and will be followed by a La Liga encounter and the second leg next week.
While Madrid would love to win every competition they take part in, the Copa del Rey has taken on an even greater significance given their La Liga struggles. The Blancos currently trail rival Barcelona by 18 points with the season's second half set to begin.
So barring some type of unimaginable meltdown from Barca, it appears the Copa del Rey provides them with their best chance to capture another domestic trophy this season. Valencia poses a difficult challenge, already having earned a draw with Madrid this season.
Here's a look at the information for Tuesday's match, followed by a preview and a prediction for the first leg's outcome.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Spain
Watch: beIN SPORT
Live Stream: beinsport.tv
Real Madrid were downright unstoppable at times last season. They dropped just two league matches en route to an eye-popping 100 points in 38 matches and a La Liga title. The Blancos haven't been able to discover that form and their lackluster results illustrate that.
One of the main reasons for their struggles is relying too much on superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo to carry the attack. The plentiful support he received during the club's championship run has diminished, and it has to concern manager Jose Mourinho.
Saturday's scoreless draw with last-place Osasuna was a perfect example. Ronaldo didn't play and the Madrid offense was anemic, failing to generate scoring chances against a team the Blancos should have dominated—and would have last season.
Unless players like Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria begin to elevate their level of play in the season's second half, the inconsistency is going to continue. The next three matches against a solid Valencia squad will be a good indication of what to expect.
Valencia have been in good form lately, winning seven of their last eight matches, and pose a legitimate threat to Madrid's Copa del Rey hopes. Star forward Roberto Soldado has led the charge with eight goals since the beginning of December.
Since they start the quarterfinals on the road, Valencia will likely employ a pretty conservative style with hopes of avoiding a first-leg blowout. As long as they are able to keep it close heading into the second leg, they will have a chance to steal the semifinal spot at home.
Expect an inspired performance from Madrid as they attempt to right the ship. Ronaldo's return should provide the spark they need to get a victory in the first leg, but Valencia will accomplish their goal of staying within striking distance for next week.
Prediction: Real Madrid 2, Valencia 1