Following an enthralling 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, the return fixture between Barcelona and Real Madrid promises to reveal a lot more than just the finalists of the Copa del Rey this season. There’s a more riding on this game than meets the eye and that includes the Champions League fortunes of both sides.
The fact that the two La Liga giants made a host of changes to their starting line-ups in their respective league games over the weekend is a clear indication of just how important this match is for both teams.
As far as Madrid are concerned, not only is this game a semi-final and an El Clasico but it’s also a bit of a dress rehearsal for their European tie against Manchester United next week. They drew 1-1 against the English giants at home, just as they did against Barcelona, and now face a similar scenario in the away leg at Old Trafford.
United game didn't go according to plan
Their approach to the two games will differ owing to the contrasting styles of the Catalans and the Red Devils but the fact remains that they have to score away from home in both games against top opposition to have any chance of progressing in the respective competitions due to the away goals rule.
The La Liga title is a foregone conclusion at this stage and in light of their feeble defense of their crown, Madrid need to win the Champions League while winning the Copa del Rey has now become a necessity as well. The atmosphere in the dressing room is reportedly a volatile one and elimination in the domestic cup could hinder the mindset of the players when they take on United.
A chance for redemption?
Victory would give the Madridistas a huge lift and real belief that they can still transform what has been a forgettable season so far into a successful and memorable one by doing the double. Even if they fail to get past Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in Europe, the domestic cup title could at the very least, serve as a consolation and may just afford Jose Mourinho one more season to get it right and deliver that coveted tenth Champions League crown. Defeat on the other hand would put Los Blancos in a situation where they could be left empty handed.
Meanwhile, victory for Barcelona is crucial for slightly different reasons. Following their 2-0 humbling by AC Milan in the Champions League at the San Siro, eliminating their fiercest rivals would go a long way to restoring their wounded pride. The return leg against Milan is heavily tipped against them with the two-goal deficit making their task a mammoth one while even a 0-0 result will see them through against Madrid. However, the Blaugrana are susceptible to conceding the odd goal and so outscoring their tough opponents may have to be their approach in both ties.
Barcelona humbled against Milan
A win in the semi-final also ensures that their dream of winning the treble remains intact. They suffered a disappointing season last time around by their high standards and a treble win in this term would be the perfect response.
Having lost just one game in the league so far, they are already enjoying their best season yet domestically but in order to mark it out as the best ever season in the club’s history, they will have to win the treble and that’s no doubt what they have set their sights on. If Madrid beat them, not only will the prospect of winning the treble be lost but their confidence could take a hit as well ahead of their do-or-die game against Milan.
The treble on the line?
The other factor that comes into play is the derby effect. It’s not a local derby but it certainly has the intensity of one and fans respond to results in the Clasico. Despite their form this season, Madrid have slightly edged the head-to-head encounters between the two sides. They won the Spanish Super Cup over two legs at the start of the season and battled to a 2-2 draw in the league at the Camp Nou before their 1-1 draw in the first leg of the cup semi-final.
Just as a win for Madrid would revitalize their season, a defeat could destroy them and they will be well aware of that in the Barcelona camp. Of course they have plenty of incentive for winning the game but the added bonus of possibly obliterating their rivals’ season definitely helps.
What we can be absolutely sure of is that the game at the Camp Nou is not just about getting to the final of the Copa del Rey. It promises to give us an insight into each side’s European encounters next week and could influence the culmination of their respective seasons. Emotions will run high and the competition will be fierce. With everything on the line, it should be a cracking contest.
|Will Balotelli be key in the Milan derby? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.