Wounded Barcelona braced for latest Real duel
With the Kings Cup final loss fresh in their minds, Barcelona are out for revenge when they face bitter rivals Real Madrid in Wednesday’s eagerly-anticipated Champions League semifinal first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
It is the third meeting between the two Spanish powerhouses in just 12 days and Barcelona hope to continue their impressive recent record at the Bernabeu as they look to bounce back from the 1-0 Kings Cup extra-time final defeat to Real five days ago.
It was Jose Mourinho’s first trophy as Madrid manager and now the Portuguese coach has his eye on delivering a 10th European Cup to Madrid as he bids to become the first coach to win the Champions League with three different clubs.
Mourinho was humiliated 5-0 by Barcelona in the league back in November, but Real are now on the up with a 1-1 league home draw against Barca followed by the Cup win.
“We can take them on over two games; we have just done that,” said Mourinho. “There is no reason we can’t beat them in the Champions League because we have just drawn once against them and then beaten them.”
‘Belief in ourselves’
History is on Madrid’s side with Real getting the better of Barcelona in their two previous semifinal meetings in the 1960 European Cup and most recently the last four of the 2002 Champions League with Madrid going on to be crowned champions on both occasions.
Barcelona have reached the Champions League semifinals for four successive seasons and coach Pep Guardiola will hope to fare better than last season when he was outfoxed by Mourinho’s Inter Milan side at this stage.
Barcelona defeated Osasuna 2-0 on Saturday to maintain their eight-point gap over Real and stay on course for their third consecutive La Liga title.
But Guardiola admitted his side were feeling the effects of a long season.
“We won’t be going to Madrid in the best physical shape, but we’ll go there with a lot of enthusiasm and we have a lot of belief in ourselves,” said Guardiola.
“We accept that Madrid may be favourites, but we will go to the Bernabeu to attack, score goals and try to win the game.”
Lionel Messi notched his 50th goal of the season in the Osasuna win and has scored on each of his last three visits to the Bernabeu with Barcelona boasting two wins and a draw from their last three trips to the capital.
The form of Messi and David Villa’s goal at the weekend, ending an 11-game drought in all competitions, is a boon for Barca but an injury to Brazilian Adriano is their latest defensive concern.
Full back Adriano could miss the rest of the season with a thigh injury so Guardiola is stretched at the back with captain Carles Puyol struggling with muscular problems and Frenchman Eric Abidal recovering from surgery on a liver tumour.
Real are having more luck with Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain and Brazilian playmaker Kaka back to their best after long lay-offs.
Higuain scored a hat-trick and Kaka grabbed a brace in Real’s 6-3 win at Valencia on Saturday to throw their hats into the ring for a starting place against Barca.
“He [Kaka] had a fantastic game in a position I like a lot,” said Mourinho. “It is fantastic for his confidence.”
Mourinho rested key players such as Pepe, Marcelo, Xabi Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored the winner in the Cup final, but will be handicapped by the absence of experienced centre-back Ricardo Carvalho through suspension.
German midfielder Sami Khedira is also out with a muscular injury so Frenchman Lass Diarra is set to deputise.—Sapa-AFP.