What: UEFA Champions League Semi-final (first leg)
Who: Real Madrid vs Barcelona
When: Wednesday 27th April, 2011, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

Not World Champions

The third instalment – and probably the most important to date – of Real Madrid’s series of encounters with Barcelona has arrived as both prepare to face each other in a double-legged Champions League knockout tie. Having drawn and won one of the last two meetings, the competition’s record holders will want to travel to Catalonia next week with high hopes, starting with a good result at the Bernabeu.

Having the Champions League semi-final well in sight, Jose Mourinho opted to rest some of his key players for the trip back to Valencia – after the Copa del Rey victory – to face Valencia themselves. Los Blancos’ substitutes were given a rare chance, one that they utilised to near perfection as they won 6-3 over the hosts. Confidence is high in the Madrid camp, and Mourinho even opted for a war of words before the two teams meet again: “Barcelona are fantastic, they have won plenty and will win more, but they are not the European or world champions, they are the Spanish champions."

Full of Confidence

A week prior to this match’s kick-off, Real Madrid defeated Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, ensuring that the King’s Cup would not travel to Catalonia this year. With both giants having settled for a piece of domestic silverware – the Blaugrana have all but wrapped up La Liga’s title – they will now fight in a grudge competition for a chance to win the most valuable trophy of them all – the UEFA Champions League.

Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Osasuna in domestic action at the weekend drew them a step closer towards effectively hanging on to the title of Spanish champions for another campaign. Now, they have to focus on the task of facing Real Madrid again, knowing that they could not achieve what they wanted against Jose Mourinho’s men in their recent encounters. That however, won’t constitute a major problem for the team, according to midfielder Javier Mascherano: “"We have all the hopes of the world, we have had a great season and we are going to the Bernabeu with the hope of getting a good result.”


Recent form

Real Madrid:
Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona (16/04; La Liga)
Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid (20/04; Copa del Rey)
Valencia 3-6 Real Madrid (23/04; La Liga)

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona (16/04; La Liga)
Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid (20/04; Copa del Rey)
Barcelona 2-0 Osasuna (23/04; La Liga)

Key absences

Real Madrid: Sami Khedira; Fernando Gago; Ricardo Carvalho (suspended)

 Andres Iniesta; Bojan Krkic; Eric Abidal; Adriano; Gabriel Milito (doubt); Maxwell (doubt); Carles Puyol (doubt)

Key battles

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Barcelona’s left back: There will be a strong possibility that neither Maxwell nor Adriano will be fit in time to occupy Barcelona’s left back position, leaving this as a weak point in Josep Guardiola’s back-four. Cristiano Ronaldo has become more at ease when facing the Blaugrana giants this season, and could test a makeshift defence.

Sergio Ramos and Raul Albiol vs Lionel Messi: If Jose Mourinho opts for a 4-3-3 against Barcelona, the two spots at the centre of defence will be occupied by Ramos and Albiol. The latter could potentially be dazzled by Messi, as he failed to cope with Barcelona’s attack in the first of the four Clasicos this season. Ricardo Carvalho’s absence couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.

Xabi Alonso, Pepe and Lassana Diarra vs Xavi, Seydou Keita and Sergio Busquets: The midfield battle, which will probably decide the game and in fact the entire tie, will be very intense. Real Madrid’s trio will defend with their lives against the Barcelona boiler room, with Xabi Alonso’s distribution a vital part of Mourinho’s side dictating the match’s tempo. Barcelona will look for a big game from Seydou Keita, who is expected to fill in for the injured Andres Iniesta.

Players to watch

Real Madrid – Pepe: The Portuguese international was immense yet again for Los Blancos in the Copa del Rey final, hitting the woodwork with a thunderous header and stopping the Barcelona attack all evening long, despite an early booking. A similar showing would surely make him the man to stop Barcelona.

Barcelona – David Villa: Villa finally broke his goal drought at the weekend against Osasuna. Now, his confidence will undoubtedly be sky high as he prepares to face Madrid yet again. His showing in the Copa del Rey was disastrous, and the striker will want to make amends with a goal or two.

Match Prediction

It is clear that Real Madrid hold the advantage going into this match. Mourinho will instruct his players to approach the game in a similar manner to the Copa del Rey final. A clean sheet would undoubtedly put Los Blancos in the driving seat as they prepare to travel to the Camp Nou in a week’s time. Real Madrid 1-0 Barcelona.

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