With three El Clasicos to be played in under four weeks, football fans are guaranteed a spectacle for the next month, with the Champions League adding intense flavour to the mix.
Barcelona are set to host eternal rivals Real Madrid in the first leg of the semi-finals of the Copa Del Rey on Wednesday. A Clasico in the league is scheduled for March 3. The first leg of the Copa clash could be all the more exciting, with both teams desperate to earn a massive win to ease the pressure in the second.
We take a look at some of the talking points ahead of the big game.
WORTH RISKING MESSI?
The Argentine superstar took a blow to his right thigh on Saturday, as he engineered Barcelona’s comeback and earned them a point in a 2-2 draw with Valencia. The extent of injury is unclear, but Messi didn’t train with the squad on Monday morning.
Risking the forward renders him vulnerable to a relapse, given this is a muscle injury. Ernesto Valverde knows how valuable Messi is to the team and his absence in the crucial stretch of games lined up could prove costly.
With Ousmane Dembele recovering from an ankle injury and tonsillitis, Valverde’s judgment faces a huge test on Wednesday.
The Catalans decimated their rivals 5-1 in Messi’s absence earlier this season, but Los Blancos have stepped up a notch under Santiago Solari and can’t be underestimated in this crucial tie.
The safe choice would be to rest the forward and unleash him in the return leg, but it’s ultimately down to the coach’s judgement and his assessment of what this team can do in Messi’s absence.
MADRID MEAN REAL BUSINESS
Los Blancos have had a bitter experience in Clasicos in the last 18 months. Their last triumph dates back to the Spanish Super Cup of 2018, when they did a double over the Catalans.
The scorelines since their last win read 3-0 and 5-1 defeats and a 2-2 draw, with Barca enjoying a 10-3 aggregate advantage. When the two sides met earlier this season, Valverde’s men romped to that 5-1 rampage at the Camp Nou.
When the pair were drawn against each other in the semi-finals, Barca were seen as outright favourites. But Madrid’s recent form in the league has shown that the Blaugrana will need to work really hard for a result.
Solari’s men have now won four games on the trot in the league for the first time this season. Also, these wins have come on the back of convincing performances with Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior leading from the front.
Madrid were also impressive in the previous round of the cup, brushing aside a competent Girona 7-3 on aggregate. Unlike the last four seasons, Los Blancos seem determined to clinch the cup and dethrone their rivals.
Injuries to Messi and Dembele also tilts the first leg in Madrid’s favour, and the visitors might even start as favourites ahead of the clash at the Camp Nou.
NELSON SEMEDO OVER SERGI ROBERTO
Three players have consistently delivered for Barca in Clasicos over the past few years – Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto and of course Messi. Roberto has been a first-choice right-back under Valverde, but the former Athletic Club coach might need to think twice before fielding the Spaniard as a starter on Wednesday.
The La Masia graduate has been terribly inconsistent in defence this season. Although this has been the case for the majority of last season too, it gained massive attention when Junior Firpo tore him apart in Real Betis’ 4-3 win at the Camp Nou earlier this season.
Roberto has shown vulnerability against fast wingers with good decision-making abilities. If Firpo could comfortably take on Roberto, one can only imagine what Vinicius is capable of.
If the Brazilian keeps up his recent form, he could be the decisive player on Wednesday. With all due respect to Roberto, he will not be able to cope with Vinicius on the counter.
On the other hand, Semedo has strengthened his case for a role in the starting line-up with some impressive defensive performances. The Portuguese is agile and capable of giving Vinicius a run for his money in terms of pace down the wing.
The fact that Roberto is more fruitful in attack could put Valverde in a dilemma, but the safer choice might be an unconventional choice this time. The Basque coach should seriously consider starting Semedo on the right.
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