El Centrocampista

Barcelona v Real Madrid – Copa Del Rey Final 2014

Campeonato de Espana Copa de S.M. El Rey

On Wednesday night the eyes of the footballing world will fall upon the Mestalla stadium in Valencia as ‘El Clasico’ dishes up its third offering of the season as the two giants of Spanish football compete for The Copa Del Rey trophy. Barcelona are the most successful club in the competitions 111 year history, winning it on 26 occasions, whilst Real Madrid have an impressive 18 titles to their name and last won it two years ago against Barcelona, a match which was also held in Valencia.

Barcelona have the upper hand so far in the head to heads this season, running out as winners on both previous occasions this season by a solitary goal in both matches; a 2-1 victory at the Camp Nou in October and then a 4-3 victory just last month at the Bernabeu.

That drama packed seven goal thriller last month only increases the anticipation ahead of this meeting. A Sergio Ramos red card, three penalties, of which two were questionable to say the least, and a Leo Messi hat trick just some of the key incidents in what was a remarkable match and it’s hard to see anything other than another open attacking match on Wednesday.

Both teams strengths lie in their attacks and both teams will be confident of being able to outscore their opponent. The loss of Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes through injuries is a major blow to the Catalans backline and it will be intriguing to see how they fare without the duo with bacup goalkeeper Pinto often walking a fine line between being the hero and the fall guy with some crazy decision making.

Recent form would imply that Real Madrid go in as favourites. In that last Clasico only a glut of missed opportunities prevented them from running out comfortable winners and the Barcelona defence seemed unable to cope with the creative play of Angel Di Maria. Further to that, two defeats in a row for Barcelona prior to this match heap the pressure upon Tata’s men.

A 1-0 loss in the Calderon against Atletico last Wednesday night ended the clubs Champions League dreams for the season and many would say the club went out of the tournament with a whimper, after failing to create many goal scoring opportunities to pull level in the tie.

This was followed by another 1-0 loss on Saturday away to lowly Granada. A match in which Barcelona had over 80% possession but again failed to turn their dominance into goals. As a result, Barcelona have relinquished their grip on their title challenge to Atletico who have been given breathing room at the top of La Liga, three points ahead of Real in second and four points ahead of Barca in third.

Real Madrid on the other hand did progress in Europe, but only just. They were made to work very hard for a 3-2 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund and will now face Bayern Munich in a much awaited tie at the end of this month.

Real have won their last three Liga games and more impressively have kept clean sheets in all of these matches whilst scoring 13 goals. An impressive response to a faltering week which first saw the league loss to Barca and then four days later a defeat against much improved Sevilla.

The quality of the two teams doesn’t need to be emphasised, but key to the match on Wednesday will be the midfield battle and most notably the peformances of Luka Modric for Real Madrid and Andres Iniesta for Barcelona.

During the last Clasico Iniesta was very impressive and showed the kind of performance which has led him to be one of the best players of his generation. He retained the ball excellently, slowed down play when necessary and capped off his performance with an excellent goal. Barcelona’s recent struggle for form, and in particular their inability to create clear goal scoring opportunities mean that they will be looking to Iniesta to be a link man between the Barcelona midfield and attack.

Luka Modric provides a similar role for Real Madrid. Perhaps he works harder at his defensive part of the game and often comes deep to win the ball back and start an attacking move. He is as crucial to Real as Iniesta is to Barca, and alongside Xabi Alonso in the centre of the park they will try to control as much of the ball as possible before realising those killer balls.

The real question on Wednesday night is – Are Barcelona able to respond to their recent downward spiral in form, or is their season about to fizzle out?

Wednesday night will provide the answers and most likely raise a few more questions along the way. One thing is for certain – failure for Barcelona to win any major silverware this season and a potential transfer ban this summer combined with Real’s chances of a treble and Atletico’s upturn in fortunes it could be a long summer for the boys from Catalonia.

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