Barcelona, Real Madrid meet in Copa del Rey final
Real Madrid can end its three-year silverware drought on Wednesday by beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final - the second of four meetings between the two sides in 18 days.
The match at the Mestalla Stadium comes only four days after the teams drew 1-1 in the Spanish league, a result that moved Barcelona closer to winning its third straight title.
Barcelona and Madrid, who also face each other in the Champions League semifinals, will be playing each other in the Copa del Rey for the first time in 21 years. They have meet in the final five times, with Barcelona winning three.
Jose Mourinho's defensive tactics in Saturday's draw have been criticized and even Alfredo di Stefano - the club's honorary president - said the Portuguese coach's team lacked ''personality.'' The former Madrid great likened Madrid to a mouse playing a lion.
Mourinho could open up some by returning Mesut Oezil to the starting lineup after the Germany playmaker came on as a late substitute Saturday to create Madrid's best efforts.
But the former Chelsea and FC Porto coach - who arrived on the heels of a treble-winning season at Inter Milan - has never succumbed to pressure and is unlikely to do so now.
Mourinho may just stick with his favored defensive ideas and maintain centerback Pepe in a midfield role after his plan limited Barcelona's dangerous midfield trio of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in attack.
''It's an important trophy and Real Madrid cannot allow itself to go 17 years without winning it,'' said captain Iker Casillas, who needs only the cup to complete his impressive trophy haul with the club. ''(Saturday's) game was a very good point of inflection for us and should give us more confidence.''
Mourinho has already won two Copa del Reys - during his time as an assistant at Barcelona - since Madrid's last domestic cup win in 1993. The Spanish giant is playing its first final since 2004 and will be without suspended defender Raul Albiol.
Barcelona, meanwhile, will be looking to add to its record tally of 25 cups from 34 finals as it returns to the site of its last win - a 4-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao in 2009.
Barcelona defender Carles Puyol returned from a near three-month injury layoff to play Saturday and is expected to be available again. Backup goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto has played all cup matches this season and should start as he did in the 2009 final, which marked the first of eight trophies won by the club under coach Pep Guardiola.
The differences between Mourinho and Guardiola will be on full display in the final as the Catalans rely on relentless pressure and a possession-based attacking game while Madrid will look to capitalize on counterattacks. A record 140 countries will broadcast the game.
''They were very clear what they wanted - to play on the break. It is a very respectable way of playing. Every team plays the way that it wants to,'' Puyol said about Saturday's match. ''A final is always attractive. It will be an intense game, between two of the best teams in the world.''
Messi scored his first goal against a Mourinho-coached team to move to within one of becoming the first Spanish league player to reach the half century mark in a season. The Argentina international will be looking for support from fellow forwards David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez , a tandem that has failed to score in the last 10 games, stretching to late February.
Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo reached 40 goals for the season Saturday with his first career score against Barcelona.
Madrid has won 17 of its 36 final appearances and lost the last meeting between the pair - in 1990 - at Mestalla, which was also the site of their first encounter in 1936. Madrid won that match, one month before the outbreak of the Spanish civil war.