Real Madrid can draw off its Copa del Rey victory and coach Jose Mourinho’s Champions League success over Barcelona when the pair meet in the first leg of the all-Spanish semifinal on Wednesday.
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Madrid beat a Pep Guardiola-coached Barcelona side for the first time in seven tries to earn its first domestic cup in 18 years and first silverware in nearly three.
Riding the momentum of last Wednesday’s victory, the nine-time European champions are now banking on Mourinho to repeat last year’s achievement at this stage when his Inter Milan knocked the Catalans out to reach the final. The Portuguese coach also came out victorious in two out of three two-legged matches with Barcelona while at Chelsea.
”If one thing’s clear it’s that the coach will not change his philosophy, his style or his habits,” Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. ”His ideas are clear and we’re going to prepare the same way.”
Madrid’s cup win has shifted the momentum in its favor, especially after it routed third-place Valencia 6-3 on Saturday while Barcelona labored past Osasuna 2-0.
While Barcelona is on course for a third straight league title, Madrid cruises into Wednesday’s first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with more confidence and a more rested team, since Mourinho left most of his regulars on the bench against Valencia.
Madrid is without midfielder Sami Khedira, who has been key in stifling Barcelona’s attack. But forwards Emmanuel Adebayor and Angel Di Maria are expected to be available with the latter leading the attack alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Oezil.
Spanish champion Barcelona’s defense, meanwhile, is struggling without a natural left back with Adriano and Maxwell both injured. Eric Abidal’s absence coupled with the doubt over Carles Puyol’s availability means Javier Mascherano or Sergio Busquets is likely to partner Gerard Pique in central defense.
”We can’t speak about favorites. It’s a very tough tie,” midfielder Andres Iniesta said. ”(But) the team seems phenomenal to me. Physically we’re well we’ve just had bad luck with injuries which is unfortunate. With everyone available we’re a better team but we have to go for it with those we have available.”
Reports in Barcelona on Tuesday suggested Iniesta may also be a doubt after the Spain international hurt his leg against Osasuna.
David Villa scored for the first time in 12 games on Saturday when Messi became the first Spanish league player to score 50 goals in a season. While the Argentina forward leads the competition with nine goals, he has yet to score at the semifinal stage in three previous tries.
Mourinho’s last four games against Barcelona have been physical affairs with his team finishing each game with 10 men, including last year’s semifinal with Inter.
Another bruising encounter may trouble a Barcelona team that many believe is showing the physical effects of the long season.
”We need to focus on our game – be solid at the back and attack with scoring goals in mind,” Iniesta said. ”That’s the only mentality.”
While Barcelona is playing in its fourth straight semifinal, Madrid has beaten its rival twice before at this stage en route to victories in 1960 and its last win in 2002. Madrid returns to the last four for the first time since 2003 with the winner going on to play either Manchester United or German club Shalke.
Wednesday’s meeting is the third of four between the bitter rivals in 18 days. The pair drew 1-1 in the league before Madrid’s 1-0 extra time cup final win.