Both sets of players know exactly what’s at stake, beginning with Wednesday’s first leg at the Camp Nou. This fixture is always fiercely contested, and the opportunity to deny each other a trophy will add more spice to a rivalry like no other.
Here’s a look at the key player battles ahead of the first leg.
Philippe Coutinho v Vinicius Junior
Philippe Coutinho has had a turbulent first full season at Barcelona. His form dipped at the same time Ousmane Dembele’s took off, and since then, he’s been in and out of Ernesto Valverde’s first-choice XI.
In 31 appearances across competitions this season, the Brazilian has managed just eight goals and five assists, and though two of those goals came in the quarter-final thrashing of Sevilla last month, that emphasises how much he’d struggled to make an impact before that fixture.
Coutinho did net against Madrid earlier in the season. A repeat on Wednesday could go a long way in getting his Barca career back on track.
Real Madrid have a Brazilian star of their own, and he has not been struggling for form. Though Vinicius Junior has managed only four goals in Madrid’s famous white shirt, his overall impact on the squad cannot be understated.
As an 18-year-old, in his first season at the club, Vinicius has been the bright spark through an up-and-down season, and his speed and skill on the ball is now helping Madrid’s entire attack improve. The way he links up with Karim Benzema has been instrumental in Real Madrid’s recent upturn in form. He won’t be fazed by the El Clasico stage.
Luis Suarez v Karim Benzema
Whenever Lionel Messi misses time with injury, all eyes to turn to Luis Suarez to provide leadership as well as that spark of magic in attack. His 15 league goals put him second on the La Liga scoring charts – behind only Messi, of course – and the last time he faced Real Madrid, he managed a hat-trick.
That performance came without Messi, as well, which bodes well for Barcelona. The talismanic captain is always a huge miss, of course, but they know Suarez can step up in his absence. He’ll be relishing the thought of tormenting Real Madrid again.
After an inconsistent start to the season, Benzema is finally stepping into the role of Real Madrid’s main goalscorer, the role he was supposed to take after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Frenchman has six goals in his last four games, bringing his tally to 18 for the season.
Now, he has the chance to truly claim the spotlight. Benzema is Madrid’s headline player in a Clasico matchup – a new experience for the French veteran. But he’s hit form at just the right time.
If he can lead Madrid to a win in this cup tie, he’ll have kicked off a new chapter of his Los Blancos career.
Gerard Pique v Sergio Ramos
No mention of El Clasico is complete without the two players who are the heart and soul of their respective teams.
First, Gerard Pique, the player whose pride in wearing the famous Catalan colours of Barcelona is always on display.
He’s had a shaky season in 2018/19, weathering some criticism over his form, but in recent weeks he’s resembled the solid performer he’s always been.
And as should be expected, he’s always up for a game against Barcelona’s famous old enemy. Pique will relish his contests with Benzema and Vinicius, and if Barca win, he won’t let Madrid forget it.
Every bit as passionate as his Barcelona counterpart, Sergio Ramos lives for these games as well. He, too has had an up and down season, though more as captain of an inconsistent side than for his own form.
Ramos is capable of a rash moment every now and then, and Barcelona do seem to bring that side out in him the most, but, on the flip side, the Los Blancos skipper knows he’s capable of willing his side to victory in a game like this.
He’ll have to be on his toes to handle the threat of Suarez and company, but Ramos should be more than up to the task.
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