The first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal could not be coming at a worse time for Barcelona. Not only did they lose 1-0 to Almeria, blowing a chance to go 10 points ahead of Real Madrid, they also ended up losing Robert Lewandowski for a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury.
Already without Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé, losing Lewandowski makes a difficult game even more so.
“It’s a very difficult opponent,” Xavi said in his pre-match press conference. “It’s a two game tie. It’s a different format and I think everything will end up being decided at the Camp Nou. We will go out to win. The goal tomorrow is to win the match.”
A bright spot heading into the match is Barcelona do get Ansu Fati back who missed the Almeria match after picking up a knock in training. To try to have some offensive depth, Angel Alarcon makes the squad again, joined by Barça Atletic’s Estanis Pedrola.
As has been the trend recently, expect Xavi to go with four midfielders once again. The absence of Lewandowski is unlikely to change his preferred formation in high-profile match. Though it has lost some of its effectiveness without Pedri and Dembélé in midfield and attack, respectively. It will be interesting to see how it functions without Lewandowski.
One would imagine the onus is on Barcelona to get a positive result given their recent losses. However, perhaps trying to ease some of the pressure, Xavi does not see it that way.
“Madrid are favorites because they are LaLiga and Champions League holders,” Xavi said. “They are a tough opponent and they are in good form.
“We have won a trophy, beating them in the final, playing extraordinary football, but it’s Madrid. They are competing really well — they scored five goals against Liverpool.”
If Barcelona can take any solace is while Real Madrid are cruising in the Champions League, they’re anything but domestically. They drew their last match against Atletico Madrid despite being up a man in the second half. Madrid also needed a comeback against Villarreal to reach this stage.
Barcelona’s league form is drastically better but their performances have been on the wane. They’ve been able to score and hold on to that lead but it’s the former that has given them problems. It’s yet to be seen how the team functions without Lewandowski as they were already struggling without Pedri and Dembélé.
The Polish striker should be back for the second leg but in order for his return to be worth something, Barcelona need to come out of the first leg with a positive result. They need it both in a sporting and psychological sense. A win would do wonders not only in the Copa del Rey but potentially shift the momentum back in their favor in the chase for LaLiga title.
Expected Barcelona lineup:
Koundé – Araújo – Christensen – Balde
Kessie – Busquets – De Jong – Gavi
Raphinha – Ferran Torres