As has been the case so many times over the years, it’s time for another edition of El Clásico, the greatest rivalry in club football, if not in any club sport in the World. This time, it’s in the semifinal of the Copa del Rey, the one competition Madrid has not seemed to be able to master in recent years. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for one of the greatest spectacles in sports.
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona Odds
At home, Madrid are favored with -115 odds compared to +265 for Barça and +195 for the draw. For a goalscoring line of 2.5, the over is set at -120 while the under is -115.
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona Prediction & Pick
With both teams stumbling to disappointing results this weekend in La Liga- a draw with crosstown rivals Atletico for Madrid, and a stunning 1-0 loss to Almería for Barcelona- the league race between these two sides is still alive, but just barely. It’s looking like the Catalan side will pull away, making this Madrid’s best shot at domestic glory this season. It would be a relatively unique accomplishment for Los Blancos, who have strangely experienced something of a drought in the competition. Amidst their triumphs in league and European play, Madrid haven’t won or even played in a Copa del Rey final since 2014. Meanwhile for Barça, rather than a last gasp, this is a chance to put themselves within striking distance of a domestic treble, with a dominant league campaign well underway, and the Supercopa already under their belt.
First legs are often cagey affairs, nobody wants to be out of the tie after the first 90 minutes, and there’s much more to look forward to. Although it wasn’t the case at Anfield for Carlo Ancelotti’s side last week, they’ve often sat back in first legs, bided their time, and stayed in it until the end, especially against teams that defend well like Barcelona. This match should be no exception; I can’t imagine they’ll actually lose at home, but I’m expecting a low-scoring, tightly-contested affair that doesn’t feature a ton of easy chances or opportunities on the break, and for Barça to struggle to score without Robert Lewandowski available; my picks are Draw +195 and u2.5 goals at -115. This is not Real’s favorite competition, and they have bigger fish to fry in Europe, which Barcelona do not- expect the different priorities of each side to be on full display in this match.
The Midfield Battle
You could look at the outrageous number of 8 goals allowed in 23 league games and assume that the Barcelona defense is at the heart of their excellent domestic season. You’d be right that they’ve played well, but wrong that they’re the driving force behind all of the success. Rather, it’s been the midfield, which has possessed the ball a ridiculous 64% of the time in league play. Pretty much everyone has been a standout, with star youngster Pedri, Dutch possession maestro Frenkie de Jong, and the legendary Sergio Busquets all putting together excellent seasons. Homegrown youngster Pablo Gavi has also shown a lot of promise, and is just about as likely as any of the others to find his way into the lineup. This group plays classic team football, and are a joy to watch; if they’re at their best, it’s hard for the other side to create anything at all.
They’ll be getting to work against a Madrid midfield that’s been very solid themselves; they’re right behind Barça with a possession number just under 60%. Like their rivals, Madrid are able to rotate consistently and mix youth with veteran savvy pairing the likes of Toni Kroos and the timeless Luka Modric with exciting young talents like Fede Valverde, and the french duo of Aurélien Tchouaméni and Eduardo Camavinga. Other than Kroos really, who contributes largely by way of surgical progressive passing, all of these players are versatile and can impact the game in a variety of ways, whether it’s with winning possession back, holding onto it or playing progressively- they’ve actually outpaced Barça in terms of big chance creation, as well as pass success rate. These are two absolutely elite groups, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they feel each other out, knowing that there’s another leg after this one.
Real Madrid Attack vs. Barcelona Defense
When the highest-scoring attack in the league goes up against the best defense, that matchup will always be worth taking a look at. We’ll start with the Madrid attack, which has been in somewhat up-and-down form. They’re led by the star duo of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior, where the balance has shifted; the young Brazilian has more goal contributions than his Ballon D’Or winning teammate in all competitions this season. Both showed how lethal they can be in big moments as each bagged a brace and an assist at Anfield on a dominating night. Other than Valverde, who occasionally slots in as a winger, the team’s other attacker is Rodrygo, last year’s UCL hero against Manchester City- he’s carved out a nice role for himself this year as he’s picked up 9 goals and 7 assists.
Lastly, we come to that brick wall of a Barça defense, which is in something of a slump by their own lofty standards. There’s the loss in La Liga over the weekend- allowing even one goal to bottom-table competition is an anomaly for them. Arguably worse, they conceded a pair of goals in each leg in their Europa League tie against Manchester United. They allowed 3 goals in the 2 games of the Supercopa, 3 against Madrid in La Liga, and 12 across 6 Champions League games- so the question becomes whether Barcelona have an elite defense, or if that’s just the case against subpar competition? There’s been strong performances from the likes of Goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen and the versatile defensive duo of Jules Koundé and Alejandro Balde, but it’s hard to know how much of it is a mirage created by beating up on lesser sides; this match will at least begin to answer that question.