Real Madrid will get its first chance at revenge for the embarrassment suffered in the 2018/2019 season's first El Clasico, when arch-rivals FC Barcelona handed Los Blancos a 5-1 drubbing thanks largely to a stunning hat trick by Luis Suarez, as Soccerway reported. In fact, Real gets not one -- but two opportunities for payback, thanks to the Copa del Rey semifinal draw. This result matched the two Spanish giants in a two-legged tie, with the first leg played Wednesday at the Camp Nou.
The absence of Lionel Messi due to a broken arm -- as CNN reported -- in the October 28 La Liga El Clasico contest did not provide much help for what was then a struggling Real Madrid side. But Real have turned their season around, and head into the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg on a five-match winning streak -- with wins in seven of their last eight games. In the process they have risen to third on the La Liga table — though still eight points off Barcelona's pace — in addition to qualifying for the domestic cup semifinal.
So Real Madrid may be able to capitalize more effectively if Messi also misses Wednesday's showdown, which appears at least possible after the 31-year-old five-time Balon D'or winner missed a training session on Monday. Messi had picked up a thigh strain in Barca's disappointing 2-2 draw at home against Valencia on Saturday, per Marca.com.
"He has a small problem," Barcelona Coach Ernesto Valverde said of Messi on Monday, as quoted by the Sun. "We will have to wait to see what medical staff say. If he's in good shape, he'll play on Wednesday. We will wait."
Fellow attacker Ousmane Dembele also remains in doubt for Wednesday's showdown with Real Madrid, having contracted a case of tonsillitis on top of the ankle injury that has kept him mostly sidelined for several weeks, according to Be Soccer. Regular Copa del Rey goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen is also out with a muscle injury, leaving first-choice La Liga netminder Marc-Andre ter Stegen to make his Cup debut.
But with or without Messi on the other side of the ball, for Real Madrid the Wednesday El Clasico offers the first real test for the club. They are currently playing their first season in a decade without Cristiano Ronaldo, who departed for Italian champions Juventus over the summer, per CNN.
"Real's troubles this season haven't only been due to Ronaldo's absence, but the main reason is his absence. Real made some mistakes in their preparation for this season but the biggest one was permitting Cristiano to leave," said Spanish football expert Juan Castro, as quoted by CNN. "The second mistake was not signing a replacement for him."
The second leg of the El Clasico Copa del Rey semifinal is scheduled for February 27, with a third El Clasico -- this time in La Liga -- taking place just three days later.