Just when you think the Copa del Rey can’t get any more exciting, along come two semi-finals to really whet the appetite.
Given the way both Real Betis and Valencia have been playing, that tie promises to be exciting and goal-laden.
Though, with the greatest respect to both teams, all eyes will be on Barcelona v Real Madrid.It’s been a while since Spain’s big two have played against each other in the domestic competition, and Los Blancos beat the Blaugrana in the last two finals when they’ve faced each other.
Real have also been on top in semi-finals, progressing on four out of five previous occasions.
With Barca on course for a record-breaking fifth successive Copa win, complacency will be their enemy, although it’s unlikely that Ernesto Valverde will allow his players to rest on their laurels against their eternal rivals.
With the first game being at Camp Nou, there is a slight advantage for Real Madrid, if they can score an away goal.
That’s highly likely given that it was way back in 2010, in that epic 5-0 thrashing, when Real Madrid last failed to find the target on Barcelona turf.
With Karim Benzema playing his way into form, Vinicius Junior showing no sign of nerves and Gareth Bale‘s pace a consistent thorn in Barca’s side in these games, Los Blancos do have an attack that can do damage.
All three offer a different threat entirely, with Messi right at home in this fixture.
Both sets of full-backs can have a say in how this game goes too.
With Marcelo having recently lost his place to Sergio Reguilon, will Solari decide to bring the Brazilian back for the big one, or keep the status quo as it is, probably sealing Marcelo’s summer exit in the process?
Barca’s right side is probably their Achilles heel, and it would be no surprise to see Real consistently attacking down that side, forcing Gerard Pique out of the middle to cover either Sergi Roberto or Nelson Semedo.
The Catalans only have to watch a re-run of Real’s opening goal against Alaves to see the ease with which they can carve opponents apart who are not in tune at the back.
No quarter will be asked or given in any area of the pitch, and a red card or two isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Mateu Lahoz is the referee and he’ll have his work cut out dealing with certain antics.
A crowded midfield will not only work the official hard, but it’s from here that either side will win or lose the game.
Take control of the middle of the park, and retain the lion’s share of possession… and let quality attackers do the rest.
It’s too close to call.