Barcelona will be raring to bounce back to winning ways when they lock horns with arch-rivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu later tonight.
The Blaugrana head into the game on the back of a shock 1-0 loss to UD Almeria, prior to which they had been defeated by Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League.
So, Xavi Hernandez & co. will be itching to produce a strong reaction and get an important win over the capital club which would put them on the track to qualifying for the finals of the tournament.
History is on Barça’s side when it comes to away cup ties against Real Madrid. Indeed, Barcelona’s last loss in a cup competition at the Bernabeu came all the way back in the 1969/70 season. Since then, they have played five times, winning twice and drawing thrice.
However, the Catalan giants will have to battle it out at the Bernabeu without three of their most important players in Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, and Pedri, all of whom are out injured.
To put into context what their absence means for Barcelona, amongst themselves, Lewandowski (25), Dembele (8), and Pedri (7) have scored more than 50% of the team’s goals this season. In comparison, the three fit forwards Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati, and Raphinha have managed a combined tally of only 18, less than Lewandowski.
Given the absence of the likes of Lewandowski and Dembele, Ansu Fati is likely to get an opportunity at the Bernabeu, at least from the bench if not from the start. The 20-year-old has not had the best of the seasons and needs to kick on and contribute more meaningfully from this point on.
Fati is the only player in history to score in El Clasico clashes in two different competitions before turning 20 – La Liga (17y 358d) and Spanish Super Cup (19y 72d). He will now be targeting a goal against Real Madrid in a third competition in Copa del Rey.
Fati and the Barcelona forwards will back themselves to breach the Los Blancos’ goal guarded by Thibaut Courtois, who does not have the best of records when facing the Catalan outfit.
Indeed, the Real Madrid No. 1 has not kept a clean sheet in his previous six appearances versus Barcelona in all competitions. Across his career (Chelsea, Atletico, Real), Courtois has played 20 times against the Blaugrana and shipped in 37 goals in total.
Meanwhile, tonight’s game will see Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets achieve a milestone in his career. The 34-year-old is all set to participate in his 46th official El Clasico vs Real Madrid, thus becoming the player with the most appearances in the tie, surpassing Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi (both 45).