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Real Madrid v Barcelona preview: Visitors could come up short

El Clasico rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona square off at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final tie.

The Spanish giants have met no fewer than 251 times competitively, with Real picking up 101 wins to Barca's 98, while 52 have ended in draws.

The Catalans came out on top in the most recent meeting as they ran out 3-1 winners in the final of the 2022/23 Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia on 15th January.

Thursday's encounter will be the 36th time the pair have gone head-to-head in the Copa del Rey, with Barca winning 15 of the previous engagements, while Real have won 12 and eight have ended in draws.

Of those 35 meetings in this competition, Barca have prevailed on five occasions at the Bernabeu. However, they fell to a 3-1 defeat when visiting in La Liga on 16th October earlier this season.

The expectation is that the winner of this two-legged tie should have enough to go on and win the final against either Osasuna or Athletic Bilbao.

WhatReal Madrid v Barcelona - Copa del Rey semi-final 1st leg
WhereSantiago Bernabeu, Madrid
When20:00, Thursday 2nd March 2023
How to watchEuropean Soccer Live Streaming Highlights & BT Sport 1
OddsReal Madrid 10/11, Draw 5/2, Barcelona 3/1

Los Blancos aiming to end Copa drought

Real sit third on the list for all-time Copa del Rey titles, having lifted the trophy on 19 occasions, while Bilbao boast 23 and Barca lead the way on 31.

They last enjoyed a successful campaign in 2013/14 and, with their hopes of winning La Liga this term looking unlikely, should be putting everything behind trying to go all the way in this competition.

Head coach Carlo Ancelotti has two absentees in his backline with Ferland Mendy and David Alaba set to miss out.

Rodrygo sustained an injury in the Champions League last-16 first-leg win at Liverpool, but he's since returned to training and could be in the squad.

The Brazilian scored a penalty in Real's 3-1 home win over Barcelona in La Liga earlier in the term and he can be backed at 2/1 To Score Anytime.

Luka Modric is set to serve a suspension against Real Betis at the weekend, but he is available for this clash, while Aurelien Tchouameni has recovered from a bout of flu and could come back into the XI.

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Catalans counting cost of Lewandowski absence

Barcelona will be keen to move on quickly from what was a disastrous week, having suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season.

A 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on Thursday which saw them exit the Europa League in the knockout round play-offs was followed by a shock 1-0 league loss at Almeria on Sunday.

That was just their second defeat in the La Liga this term, however, and they remain seven points clear of Real at the summit.

The loss was further compounded by the news that talisman Robert Lewandowski suffered a hamstring injury and it's not clear how long he will be sidelined for.

Lewandowski is comfortably Barca's leading marksman this campaign, netting 25 across all competitions - with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with eight.

Dembele is also set to miss this clash with a thigh problem and influential midfielder Pedri is ruled out with the same issue.

In terms of finding cover for Lewandowski, Ferran Torres, who has registered five times across all competitions, looks the most likely candidate.

Torres has struck twice in seven previous appearances against Los Blancos and can be backed at 10/3 To Score Anytime.

Home advantage key for Real

Real are yet to taste defeat at home in any competition this season, winning 11 and drawing four, and they are unbeaten in 19 at the Bernabeu dating back to last season.

Los Blancos are 10/11 To Win, something they have achieved in three of their last four when hosting Barca. The visitors have lost six games across all competitions in 2022/23 and five of those have come on the road.

With several key figures missing, visiting head coach Xavi may look to employ a damage limitation approach in order to keep the tie alive for the return at the Nou Camp on 5th April.

If that approach is taken then a low-scoring affair could be on the cards with Under 2.5 goals at 19/20 offering appeal.

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