Spanish football returns with Copa del Rey
Real Madrid and Barcelona can set the stage for another pair of
”clasicos” by beating Malaga and Osasuna when Spanish football
returns from its annual winter break this week with the Copa del
Rey’s round of 16.
Madrid and Barcelona both play their first leg at home, and big
victories there would all but end their opponents’ hopes of pulling
off an upset in the return match.
Strong results for the Spanish giants would also set up another
likely matchup between them later this month, as the winners will
meet in the two-legged quarterfinals of the cup competition.
Malaga hasn’t beaten Madrid since its return to regular first
division football in 1999, while Osasuna will face a Barcelona side
that has won its last five matches at the Camp Nou by a combined
score of 26-0.
Malaga’s ambitious owners have gone on a spending spree lately
to buy players in a bid to see the Andalucian club compete at the
top of the table, but Madrid has won the last three meetings
between the sides by a combined score of 15-1 going into Tuesday’s
”We hope for a good result, which is not to lose and to score
goals,” Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said on Monday. ”If we
can’t win, a draw, and if we are going to lose we’ll score goals
and not just sit in our backfield looking to defend.”
Madrid, which beat Barcelona in last year’s final, will likely
be without injured players Angel di Maria, Sergio Ramos and Ricardo
Carvalho, while Malaga remains without Brazilian striker Julio
Baptista and winger Joaquin Sanchez. In-form winger Jose Callejon
is expected to fill in for Di Maria, while either Raul Albiol or
Rafael Varane can replace Ramos if the Spain international doesn’t
recover from a leg injury in time to play at the Santiago Bernabeu
”Di Maria’s absence will affect them some,” Cazorla said.
”But whoever plays, it’s going to be a complicated match.”
Barcelona, meanwhile, has 12 wins and two draws in 14 games at
the Camp Nou this season, where it has outscored opponents 59-4. It
already beat Osasuna 8-0 on home soil this season.
Lionel Messi’s availability is questionable as the Argentine
forward did not train with the team on Monday after just returning
from a winter holiday. But several injured players did return to
training and could be available on Wednesday, including Andres
Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez, Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Seydou
Osasuna is in good form and has climbed to a surprising fifth
place in the league after going unbeaten in its last seven games, a
streak that includes four wins.
”We know what can happen. (But) what matters to us is
Osasuna,” Brazil fullback Adriano said Monday of the clasico
possibility. ”If it’s Madrid or Malaga, that’ll come later.”
Valencia faces Sevilla on Thursday in perhaps the most even
matchup of the round, while all four remaining lower-tier clubs
host their first-leg matches against topflight clubs.
Second-tier Alcorcon, which knocked Madrid out of the
competition in 2009 and beat Villarreal this time around, plays
early-season surprise Levante, with the winner of that series going
on to play either Valencia or Sevilla. Madrid and Barcelona are
also on that side of the draw, leaving the eight teams on the other
half with a golden chance of reaching the final.
Third-tier Albacete, which eliminated Atletico Madrid, on
Tuesday welcomes 23-time champion Athletic Bilbao, which is without
injured striker Fernando Llorente, while third-tier Mirandes
welcomes struggling topflight side Racing Santander. Espanyol is at
second-division Cordoba on Thursday, while Real Sociedad faces
Mallorca on Wednesday.