Madrid, Feb 26 : Real Madrid and FC Barcelona meet for the first time in four days when they face off in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal on Wednesday night.
Real Madrid go into the game as slight favorites after the 1-1 draw in the Camp Nou in the first leg three weeks ago left them with an away goal, meaning that Barca have to score on Wednesday to have any chance of progressing.
The league leaders returned to form on Saturday in the Liga Santander with a 4-2 victory away to Sevilla in which Leo Messi showed just how important he is to the Barca cause. The Argentinean scored a hat-trick and provided an assist for Luis Suarez in Barca's fourth of the night as they twice came back from behind to claim 3 vital points.
Messi will lead the Barca line again in Madrid and the Real Madrid players will no doubt be aware that he started the first leg of the semifinal on the subs' bench after suffering a thigh injury.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde could be tempted to strengthen his defense to try and stop Vinicius Jr, who has been Madrid's best player in recent weeks. Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo could both start down the Barca right with Jordi Alba and Ousmane Dembele on the left. Clement Lenglet is also likely to be back in the Barca defense after being rested at the weekend.
Real Madrid go into the game after their win away to Levante thanks to a controversial penalty on Sunday and the club muttering complaints about having 24 hours less preparation time than Barca for the game (although Barca had a day less to prepare for their league meeting earlier this season).
Sergio Ramos is back after suspension and Madrid coach Santiago Solari has to decide whether to play Sergio Reguilion or Marcelo at left back after Barca targeted Marcelo as a weakness in their two previous meetings.
Meanwhile, Gareth Bale is in the middle of a storm of criticism over his attitude after refusing to celebrate his winning goal at the weekend and apparently preferring to watch golf on his mobile phone rather than mix with team-mates. All will probably be forgiven if he scores the winner on Wednesday. (XINHUA)