Depleted Madrid prepare to host their great rivals
Real Madrid’s resilience will be tested to the full when they host holders Barcelona in a King’s Cup semi-final first leg without a number of their most influential players tomorrow.
With the defence of their La Liga title in tatters, as they trail leaders Barca by 15 points, coach Jose Mourinho has targeted the cup and the Champions League as the club’s priorities.
However, the cup semi-final arrives with the side hampered by injuries and suspensions.
Captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas has been ruled out for up to three months after needing surgery on a fractured bone in his hand, and defender Pepe has yet to return after ankle surgery.
Defenders Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao, and winger Angel Di Maria, are all suspended for the first leg at the Bernabeu (8pm).
“It’s a really important game, a tough game,” said Real’s leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring a hat-trick in their 4-0 league thrashing of Getafe on Sunday.
“We’re playing at home, which is a great opportunity to be successful. We’ll be missing a number of players, key players, who are very important for this squad, but that’s not an excuse . . .”
It has been a turbulent few days for the 2011 cup winners after a report in Marca said captains Casillas and Ramos had threatened to leave unless Mourinho was dismissed. Real president Florentino Perez called a news conference to deny the story, accusing the newspaper of lying.
The shock of losing Casillas at a critical stage of the campaign prompted the club to react swiftly and sign a replacement goalkeeper, Diego Lopez from Sevilla, though it will probably be reserve Antonio Adan who keeps his place tomorrow.
Real have had the edge over Barca in direct meetings this term. They beat them on the away goals rule in the season-opening Spanish Super Cup after drawing 4-4, and they grabbed a 2-2 draw in La Liga at the Nou Camp.
After Ronaldo took his tally in La Liga to 21 goals with a hat-trick on Sunday, Messi went one better in a later game bagging four in a 5-1 rout of Osasuna to move on to 33.
“I don’t think Messi needs Cristiano to motivate himself, he has an unquenchable ambition,” said Barca’s assistant coach Jordi Roura.
Barca beat Real 4-3 on aggregate to knock them out of the cup in the quarter-finals last year. In the other semi-final, Atletico Madrid host Sevilla at the Vicente Calderon on Thursday.