There have been two clásicos already this season. Barcelona won the first, in October, 5-1, which saw off Julen Lopetegui. Luis Suárez scored a hat-trick that day. The second was the first leg of this semi-final, a much more evenly balanced affair a couple of weeks ago that ended 1-1.
If you’re not a regular follower of Spanish football you might be wondering who Reguilon is. He’s a 22-year-old left-back who is keeping Marcelo out of the Real Madrid team. Solari has tended to favour him since he took over. He’s played 16 times for Madrid but never in a clásico … and never against Messi. Yikes. That’s one to watch.
Meanwhile, Santiago Solari has said the furore in the Spanish press about Bale’s non-celebration and general demeanour against Levante is nothing to worry about and hasn’t affected the vibes in his squad.
We are 100% focused … Bale and the rest of the players are fully focused. We are all united and we have the same goal, which is to make it to the final. Those who compete are always out there to battle.”
It’s Ernesto Valverde’s 100th match in charge of Barcelona tonight, not that he’s been counting. Here’s what he had to say about the occasion:
I would love to win, I won’t deny that. I didn’t know [it was my 100th game], but it’s an important game because it’s a semi-final, it’s a clasico and we would like to go through. It will be complicated. We have a scoreline which is not the one we would want, but it’s an open game and the match is to be decided. We know the quality of our rival. It will be an attractive game for the fans.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Sergi Roberto, Busquets, Rakitic; Messi, Suárez, Dembele. Subs: Cillessen, Alena, Umtiti, Arthur, Vidal, Malcom, Coutinho
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Reguilón; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Vázquez, Benzema, Vinicius. Subs: Courtois, Nacho, Bale, Marcelo, Valverde, Asensio, Ceballos.
So, Coutinho is on the bench for Barça, with Démbéle again favoured over the former Liverpool playmaker whose career at Camp Nou has not taken off yet. And Madrid leave Bale on the sidelines again, where his teammates would be best advised not to get tactile or try to engage him any chat.
Monsieur, with these clásicos you are really spoiling us. This is the first of two in four days! It’s all back to the Bernabéu again to meet in La Liga on Saturday. But it is probably fair to say, with Real Madrid trailing Barcelona by nine points in the league, it is in this competition (or perhaps Europe further down the line) that they have the best chance of getting one over their fierce rivals this season.
If Barcelona were perhaps a little disjointed in the first leg, it is because they were without Lionel Messi for about an hour of it. He will be back to pull the strings again this evening and, after scoring a sublime hat-trick against Sevilla at the weekend, he can be expected to be at his bafflingly brilliant best from the off.
As for Madrid, their preparation has been overshadowed somewhat by criticism of Gareth Bale in the Madrid press after he batted away any teammate who tried to celebrate with him when he scored on Sunday. The Bernabéu could give Bale, who appeared to be miffed at being benched against Levante, a more hostile reception than the Barça team.
The visitors won the Copa del Rey last season for a record 30th time. They’ll not want Madrid getting their hands on their prized pot. Clásicos rarely disappoint – and this is the second leg of a semi-final. Oof. Expect fireworks.
My prediction: Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona (3-3 agg) Barcelona win on away goals.