Lionel Messi is a slight doubt for the fixture after coming off following his heroics in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Valencia. Ernesto Valverde’s side thrashed Real 5-1 when they met in Catalonia back in October, and Wednesday’s visitors are under huge pressure to avoid a similar embarrassment.
Wednesday’s first leg will be Santiago Solari’s first taste of El Clasico, and it sits as a reminder of his duties that his predecessor, Julen Lopetegui, was sacked following the Camp Nou defeat in October.
Much has changed in the past three or so months. Barca remain La Liga leaders, but Real have closed the gap and are now third, with Solari having helped restore some equilibrium in Madrid.
Most notable among Real’s squad alterations has been the evolution of Vinicius Junior, who scored his first La Liga goal in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Alaves. The Brazilian winger, 18, has been entrusted as a starter by his coach and is now reaping the benefits, though Wednesday’s fixture is also his first opportunity to feature in El Clasico.
Solari recently spoke to the media and confirmed he has a fully-fit squad available for the semi-final first leg. Asked about the fitness of Messi, he said: “It’s always better when the best players get to play, it’s as simple as that.”
Barcelona’s talisman scored twice to pull his side back from the brink against Valencia before he was forced off. The Blaugrana are hoping to become the first team in Spanish football to lift the Copa del Rey five years in succession, but a promising start is needed to overcome Real in their double-header.
The return leg will take place at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, February 27