Don’t let the fact that this is a Cup match fool you. The Clasico flame burns just as bright outside the La Liga as well, maybe even more because of how the season is going. Real Madrid can’t win the league, so winning the Copa Del Rey and putting a dent in Barca’s season is quite the motivation. For Barcelona, playing a Clasico, league or cup, means no one is taking this match lightly.
Despite the 15 point difference between the two sides in the league this season, Real Madrid aren’t underdogs. They never are at home, even against Barcelona. At least, they don’t view themselves as such, and after the recent results they’ve been having, which include two wins and a meaningless draw against Valencia before a romp at home, destroying Getafe, they feel all the confidence in the world going into the first Clasico of 2013.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in six consecutive Clasico matches, the first player to ever achieve that. He has also scored 10 goals in 2013 already, including a hat trick in the 4-0 win against Getafe. The question isn’t Ronaldo’s form, but what the others bring to the table, especially Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria, probably the two biggest game changers for Real.
It’s also a question of what kind of pressure Mourinho decides to open with, usually deploying very aggressive tactics in the previous Bernabeu matches, including the recent 2-1 win in the Supercoppa. The problem is the man at goal, Diego Lopez, which might cause Real to be a tad shaky when defending, not having the usual confidence they get from playing with Iker Casillas.
Barcelona rebounded very well from their first league loss of the season – a 4-2 away win at Malaga followed by the 5-1 drubbing of Osasuna. Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta got some rest, and Barcelona should have their full lineup available if Tito Vilanova chooses to use it.
It’s not a question of how good Lionel Messi will be, scoring four goals in the win against Osasuna. It’ll be about the midfield quartet of Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas (if he starts), and their ability to dictate tempo while still denying Real the possibility of their counter attacks, as much as possible at least. In all of Barcelona’s recent wins at the Bernabeu, it was mostly about shedding off the initial pressure and slowly taking control of the match. It usually ends up with a win or a draw.
Predictions – Real Madrid’s midfield isn’t stronger than it has been in the past; their advantage is counter attacking and speed, which means Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil need to be at their best to claim a win. Anything can happen in this one, but Barcelona are a better side, so a draw or even an away win looks slightly more likely.