Madrid will play Barca in the Copa Clasico semifinal.
On Thursday, a hurt Barcelona will play Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals, hoping for a Clasico victory to justify coach Xavi Hernandez’s risk at a pivotal juncture in the season.
Despite the absence of injured pair Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, Xavi rested other crucial players in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Almeria in favor of the Clasico cup match, passing up the opportunity to increase their league advantage over Madrid to 10 points.
Ansu Fati is expected to return, while top scorer Robert Lewandowski is expected to miss the Clasico due to a hamstring problem. This has Barca worried.
After being eliminated from the Europa League by Manchester United at Old Trafford, Barcelona suffered their second straight loss at Almeria, putting on what Xavi called their “worst performance of the season.”
With their seven-point La Liga lead substantial but not insurmountable, a third loss at the Santiago Bernabeu may throw the team into a tailspin.
A day after Osasuna hosted Athletic Bilbao at El Sadar in the other Copa del Rey semi-final first leg, the Catalans traveled to the Santiago Bernabeu.
After El Bilal Toure’s goal handed them just their second Liga defeat of the year, Xavi admonished his team, “We have to change our thinking if we want to win the league and the cup.”
“We have no justification; the fact that we lacked intensity and a desire to play well disturbs me the most.
You can make mistakes, but you need to play with passion and drive, which we didn’t have in the first half.
The coach’s decision to rest Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Raphinha, and Alejandro Balde against Almeria may come under more scrutiny if the team does poorly in the capital.
Although the Spanish Super Cup was already secured, Xavi stated that even if his club won La Liga but not the Copa del Rey, it would still be considered a successful season.
Yet if they lose this doubleheader against their bitter rivals, more skepticism about the undertaking would surface, feeding criticism of Xavi’s expenditure last summer.
Kounde, Raphinha, and striker Robert Lewandowski were among the players that Barcelona acquired from Bayern Munich, and the financial gimmicks they used to complete the moves demanded immediate results.
Due to Barcelona’s misstep, Real Madrid’s depressing derby match with Atletico on Saturday was improved.
With a convincing 5-2 victory over Liverpool at Anfield, Carlo Ancelotti’s team can now focus on avenging their Spanish Super Cup humiliation. They now have a foot in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Barcelona won their first trophy under Xavi in January by a decisive score of 3-1 in Saudi Arabia.
On that particular day, the Catalans appeared to be considerably more willing to battle than Madrid because they were eager to break their trophy drought, but the Cup del Rey is a different story.
The previous time Madrid won the trophy was in the 2014 Mestalla final against Barcelona, 3-1, when Gareth Bale scored an outstanding solo goal.
David Alaba, Rodrygo, and Ferland Mendy are all out for Los Blancos due to injury.
Carlo Ancelotti remarked following the Madrid derby tie, “Now the Cup is the most important thing since it’s the next game and we are very near to a trophy.”
“We have 270 minutes left to win the championship.”