The wounded Barcelona will face its arch-rivals and its guest Real Madrid on Thursday in the first leg of the Clasico, the semi-finals of the King’s Cup in football, in a critical period, in an effort to avoid a third successive loss in various competitions.
Barcelona received two painful blows over the course of four days, by leaving empty-handed, continually losing to its host Manchester United, England, 1-2, on Thursday, in the second leg of the qualifying play-off to the final price of the European League, “Europa League”, and then to its host Almeria 0-1 in the local league, wasting the opportunity to move away. 10 points ahead of the Royal Club.
Barcelona is playing the match in the absence of its two stars, midfielder Pedri and its French international wing, Musa Dembele, due to injury, and there is also doubt about the participation of its Polish top scorer, Robert Lewandowski, due to a thigh injury he suffered in the match against Almeria.
Barcelona attaches great importance to facing Real, and this was evident by resting its coach, Xavi Hernandez, for many of the key players in the last match, most notably defenders Alejandro Balde, Frenchman Jules Conde, Uruguayan Ronald Araujo and Brazilian winger Rafinha, noting that he pushed the last two in the 67th and 46th minutes, respectively.
Xavi commented on the loss against Almeria, which was the second in the league, that his team gave “its worst performance this season.”
Xavi is well aware that a third successive loss against the Royal Club will plunge the team into a whirlpool. He is seeking to lead his team to crowning the local league and cup titles after winning the local Super Cup early this year in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, at the expense of its rivals 3-1 in the final match.
The Catalan club will be a guest at the Santiago Bernabeu, a day after Osasuna welcomed Athletic Bilbao at the “El Sadar” stadium in the first match of the semi-final first leg.
Xavi warned his players after falling in the league, and the difference between him and Real Madrid decreased to seven points, and he said: “We have to change our way of thinking if we want to win the league and the cup. We have no excuse. We did not show the desire to play, the intensity, and this is what worries me the most.”
He continued, “You can step back, but you have to show passion and desire and in the first half we lacked that.”
Many questions will be raised about Xavi’s decision to rest Araujo, Conde, Baldi and Rafinha in the event that Barcelona fails to achieve a positive result in Madrid.
Xavi explained that even if his team only won the league title and left the King’s Cup competition, “our season will remain good after we were crowned with the Super Cup.”
However, falling into this double confrontation (they meet again on the fifth of next April) in front of his archrival will increase doubts about the club’s project led by Xavi, and will feed the critics of the young coach after the Catalan club spent a lot of money last summer to strengthen its ranks.
Barcelona brought in many players, including Lewandowski from Bayern Munich, Conde from Seville, and Rafinha from Leeds United, England, and he was required to achieve immediate results to restore his prestige, at least locally, in light of his abject failure in the two continental competitions: the Champions League and the European League.
Barcelona is awaiting strong matches in the current period. After his visit to the Santiago Bernabeu, he will host Valencia next Sunday, then visit Athletic Bilbao on March 12, before hosting Real Madrid in the second leg of the League Clasico on the 19th of it at the “Spotify Camp Nou” stadium, then he will be a guest on Elche. Real Madrid hosts again in the second leg of the Cup competition.
On the other hand, Real Madrid’s condition does not seem better than its rival, especially at the local level, and it will enter Thursday’s match after stumbling against its neighbor Atletico Madrid (1-1) at the summit of the twenty-third stage.
And after he considered his draw disappointing before the Barcelona-Almeria match, he turned into a positive result after the Catalan club lost.
Real hopes to take advantage of its stadium and achieve a positive result, as it did in the first leg of the League Clasico (3-1) in the ninth stage on October 16, thus securing a comfortable return match and raising the morale of its players before two difficult tests locally against its host Real Betis and its guest Espanyol, then against its guest. Liverpool in the second leg of the Champions League final (5-2 in the first leg), and Barcelona in the cup.
Thursday’s match will be an opportunity for the royal club to take revenge for its disappointing fall against Barcelona in the final match of the Super Cup, in its quest to continue its career in the competition, which has been chasing after its title since 2014, when it won it at the expense of Barcelona 3-1 in the final match.
Real plays the match, in turn, in the absence of the main pillars, especially the Austrian David Alaba, the Brazilian Rodrigo and the French Ferland Mendy.
And his Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti commented after the derby draw, “Now the cup is the most important thing because it is the next match and we are very close to the title,” adding, “We are 270 minutes away from winning the title,” referring to the semi-final and final matches.