Spanish football’s big two meet for the third time this season on Wednesday, as Real Madrid and Barcelona put their La Liga title ambitions on the back burner for the Copa del Rey final.
With Atletico Madrid three points clear at the top of La Liga, Wednesday’s final will hold special significance for both clubs with trophy-less campaigns looming large.
With both teams looking for a psychological edge over their rivals heading into the title run-in, fireworks are expected at Estadio Mestalla in their seventh Copa del Rey final meeting.
Venue: Estadio Mestalla, Valencia
Date: Wednesday, April 16
Time: 8:30 p.m. BST/5:30 p.m. ET
TV: SkySports 1 / ESPN
Barcelona and Real Madrid have met six times in Copa del Rey finals in their respective histories, with each side taking three victories apiece, making Wednesday’s meeting a tiebreaker of sorts.
Their last meeting came in the 2010/11 competition, when Cristiano Ronaldo’s extra-time header proved the difference between the sides in a stunning final once again at Estadio Mestalla.
However, the Whites may need to look elsewhere for a match winner on Wednesday, as the Portuguese striker is rumoured to be facing a spell on the sidelines with a thigh injury.
Spanish newspaper AS reported Ronaldo’s absence via Twitter:
BREAKING: Cristiano will miss Wednesday's Copa del Rey final after suffering a thigh muscle tear. He faces 15 days on the sidelines.— AS English (@English_AS) April 10, 2014
Despite the 2013 Ballon d’Or winner’s potential absence, Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti explained to El Mundo that his squad have what it takes to cope without him, reported via SoccerWay:
Cristiano is always missed but the players aren't saying, ‘Oh my God, what will we do without him?’ They have shown confidence as they know how to win without him. It is also a very good opportunity for someone to take centre stage in a final.
With the likes of Isco, Angel di Maria and Gareth Bale all proving their worth in the famous white shirt this season, Madrid certainly have enough firepower without their talisman to claim their 19th Copa trophy.
Meanwhile, Barcelona, who have eight more Copa del Rey triumphs than Madrid, come into Wednesday’s match off the back of some worrying form.
Per ESPN FC, the Catalan giants have won just one of their last four matches in all competitions, and they lost valuable ground in the La Liga title race with a 1-0 defeat at Granada on Saturday despite dominating proceedings.
80,7% - No team have had more possession in a La Liga game this season than Barcelona versus Granada (80.7%). Style— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 12, 2014
It was a loss that rubbed salt into the Barcelona wounds after elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Atletico Madrid put them on the brink of campaign failure.
With injuries plaguing the Barcelona defence, Gerardo Martino will likely keep the faith in the makeshift centre-back pairing of Alex Song and Javier Mascherano.
The midfield duo looked out of place at the back against Granada, understandably so, and they will undoubtedly be punished by Madrid’s free-scoring frontline if their performance does not improve.
According to Scoreboard.com, Ancelotti’s side are yet to concede a goal in this year’s competition, scoring 13 of their own in the process.
If they can produce a similarly solid yet exciting performance against their biggest rivals on Wednesday then their name will once again be etched onto the famous trophy. But as both sets of players will know, anything can happen in El Clasico.