Atletico Madrid currently sit on top of the current La Liga standings with a three-point lead over second-place Real Madrid. Barcelona remain four points off the lead. With only five matches left for each side, it will be difficult to come from behind.
Additionally, Barca were eliminated from Champions League, taking out one more chance to call it a successful season.
As a result, they will be fighting hard in the Copa del Rey against their biggest rivals in the latest version of El Clasico. Here is a look at what the battle means for both sides.
The big story heading into the Copa del Ray match will be the absence of star player Cristiano Ronaldo. Manager Carlo Ancelotti confirmed the news to reporters, but still seemed confident about his club’s chances, via Dermot Corrigan of ESPN:
I have decided [which player will start] but I am not going to say it. Cristiano’s absence makes everyone more motivated. We have played very well in games he’s missed, worked more, and run more. Tomorrow there will be no problem in terms of motivating the players — they are very excited about the game. I am sure we have prepared very well and are going to play very well tomorrow.
As a result, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will have to step up their efforts on the attack. Benzema especially played extremely well in the last match against Almeria while showcasing his ability as a distributor.
For all of the scoring that Ronaldo does, people forget that he is an excellent passer who also helps people get open when defenses flock toward him. For this reason, Real Madrid should play another quality passer in Angel di Maria to help create opportunities around the net.
Along with some solid defense that has been shown in recent weeks, the club should be just fine on the pitch.
Besides just helping out in this match, a win could help create momentum going forward. Ancelotti discussed this factor on the club’s official site:
On a mental level, I think it will be very important. I think after this game, the side that wins will have more motivation, illusion and desire to play their best until the end of the season. I think from a mental point of view, it will be very important.
This could end up being the first of three trophies for Real Madrid, but each of them will be tough to come by. The club better be prepared for a difficult battle throughout the upcoming match.
Thanks to consecutive 1-0 defeats to Atletico Madrid and Granada, Barcelona are now out of the running for Champions League and are in desperate position in La Liga.
Franesc Tomas of ESPN was not being overly dramatic in his assessment in saying, “We can honestly say the Catalans have completed the worst week in recent history, leaving the club on the verge of social and institutional chaos.”
Simply put, Barcelona are used to winning at a high rate. Suddenly, there is a very real possibility that the club can end the year trophyless.
Things get even worse when you consider the injury issues, as Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol are less than 100 percent. Even if they play, they will be unable to provide their full effort.
Of course, the defense had never mattered much in Barcelona due to the fact that offensive stars like Lionel Messi could carry the squad to victory. Unfortunately, even he has not lived up to expectations in recent weeks, including a poor showing in the most recent loss to Granada.
John Bennett of BBC examines the ineffectiveness of Messi in the previous match:
He still has an incredible 25 goals and 10 assists in 26 league matches, but the star forward needs to be at his absolute best to help his club earn this win. This is an even bigger issue with Neymar only scoring in three of his last 16 matches.
The midfield has to make sure to get the ball to the scorers up front, and the forwards have to take care of business when they get a chance.
Prediction: Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 0