Auger-Aliassime bumps slump to beat qualifier at Barcelona Open
Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernandez has said Real Madrid are the favorites going into Thursday’s Copa del Rey clash at the Bernabeu.
There will be three Clasicos within one month, with the first kicking off on Thursday when Madrid host Barca in the first leg of the semifinal, with the second leg to come at Camp Nou at the start of April after the teams meet in LaLiga on March 19.
Madrid won when the two teams met in the league earlier this season, but Barca were victorious in the Spanish Super Cup final between the two sides last month in Saudi Arabia.
Barca have since lost Robert Lewandowski, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele to injury, but Xavi said Madrid would be favorites for the tie even if the Catalans were at full strength.
“Madrid are favorites because they are LaLiga and Champions League holders,” Xavi said in a news conference. “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.
“I have to be honest. I don’t mind saying it. That said, we have the weapons to do damage, we have shown that, and it will be an even tie, but they are favorites.”
Barca have built a seven-point lead over Madrid at the top of LaLiga but have suffered back-to-back defeats over the last week to dampen the mood around the club.
They were knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United and then suffered a shock defeat to Almeria in the league at the weekend as they missed the opportunity to go 10 points clear as leaders.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Xavi said of the pessimism following those losses. “I know the club and the environment around it and I know where the shots get fired.
“If we only look at the last two games, we are in hospital, but if we look at how we are doing overall — seven clear in LaLiga, in the semifinal of the cup, Super Cup winners, we competed in Europe despite going out — the picture is still good.”
And he insisted the position Barca have worked for themselves does not increase the pressure on him when it was suggested this series of games versus Madrid could mark the Blaugrana’s season.
“Not at all,” Xavi said. “I am always motivated for games at the Bernabeu. I like the rivalry. I like going there and trying to dominate the game. It motivates me more than other games, it gets me going.
“I would love to have the ball in the middle of the pitch, but I can’t, so I tell the players to try things, to be brave … winning at the Bernabeu is a great feeling.
“We have to be more of a team than ever, in defence, attack and at set plays. The small details decide these games. We will play the way we normally do against Madrid.
“In many phases of play they don’t dominate [the game], but they have mini-spells where they do and are great in transitions. We have to be brave, play with character and minimise how often we give the ball away because they can do damage with Vinicius, Rodrygo, [Fede] Valverde and [Karim] Benzema.
“They beat us well in LaLiga and we beat them in the Super Cup. I think it will be decided in the second leg. It is a golden opportunity to reach a final and win a trophy.”
While Barca are without Lewandowski, Pedri and Dembele, Madrid are likely to welcome back Rodrygo after he returned to training this week.
They will be without Ferland Mendy and David Alaba through injury, though, with Nacho Fernandez likely to continue at left-back. The other semifinal pits Osasuna versus Athletic Club, with the first leg to be played in Pamplona on Wednesday. The final is on May 6.