Real Madrid v Barcelona Wednesday, 20:00 Live on Eleven Sports 2
Madrid aiming to redeem season in cups
What's better than a Clásico? Two Clásicos in the space of four days, of course, and that's exactly what's on the Spanish football menu this week, thanks to a happy accident of fixture scheduling. The two old rivals settle their Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday night before reconvening in the league, so bragging rights will only truly be doled out on Saturday night.
For Real Madrid, there's no doubt that this first game is the more important one. They're nine points and goal difference back in La Liga, which already looks like a foregone conclusion, but they can still salvage some pride from a calamitous season in the cups. They have one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals after beating Ajax, and claimed a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou in the first leg of this tie, which puts them in the driving seat.
Madrid's line-up has settled down in recent weeks, with Lucas Vázquez tightening his grip on the right-wing berth and Casemiro returning to form in central midfield. Gareth Bale will likely have to make do with a spot on the bench despite scoring the against Levante at the weekend, and Santiago Solari looks set to make just two changes to his XI: Keylor Navas is the designated cup goalkeeper and will replace Thibaut Courtois, while Sergio Ramos can expect to return at centre-back after a ban.
Stick or twist for Barça?
For Ernesto Valverde, this game represents something of a dilemma. On the one hand, opportunity knocks, and with such a big advantage in the league, he may be tempted to throw full force at Madrid and move to within 90 minutes of another trophy. On the other, he will be all too aware that a little rest could go a long way when it comes to the latter stages of the Champions League, which has been Barça's main priority all season.
His squad is hardly tiny, but there have been pinch points. Luis Suárez, for instance, has been putting off treatment on a troublesome knee for some time, but keeps soldiering on, often at the expense of the sharpness he used to be known for. And with the side arguably more dependent on Lionel Messi than ever, Valverde will be terrified about the possibility of his star man breaking down on the home straight.
Some rotation is probably likely. Ousmane Dembélé should return after coming off the bench against Sevilla, while Clément Lenglet, Sergi Roberto and Malcom could all be shuffled into the side. But with Rafinha and Arthur both injured, the frontline midfielders will just have to grin and bear the workload for the time being.
Barça the favourites
Madrid are a tough team to side with, capable of completely tanking in any given match, as they did against a struggling Girona side the weekend before last. Yet while it took Solari a while to find his bearings, the overall trajectory has been upward: they've won 21 of the last 28 in all competitions, and there's a renewed - if still nascent - sense of positivity about the place.
Karim Benzema has found his groove again. He is dovetailing nicely with Vinícius Júnior, who has gone from promise to reality faster than expected, and who shone in the first leg of this tie. With nothing much to play for in the league, they will be up for this game, and keen to make a statement.
Barça, to be sure, have enjoyed recent trips to the Bernabeu; they've won on their last three league visits, scoring 10 times in the process. They're rated as slight favourites at 2.52 to win this in 90 minutes, but the possible rotation factor - plus a tinge of contrariness - makes us lean towards the hosts at 2.82.
Goals on the cards
This fixture has, by and large, been a guarantee of goals. Both teams have scored in 25 of the last 28 meetings (including Spanish Super Cup), and we expect this one to go the same way, with neither defence impregnable.
The overs is short at 1.55, but we can use the Same Game Multi tool on the Sportsbookto construct an attractive looking bet, given our inkling that Madrid will edge this first part of this week's double-bill. Madrid to qualify with both teams to score can be backed at [3.29] and could still win if the game ends level after 90 minutes.
Back both teams to score and Madrid to qualify at [3.29] (Sportsbook)