Tim Stannard on the Copa del Rey capital clash - and Real Sociedad's trip to Barcelona...
It's never easy preparing for a semi-final first leg game against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, but Real Sociedad’s previous Copa del Rey encounter was as good a practice as they'll get.
In that particular clash last week, the Basque side faced a rebelling Racing Santander team that stood motionless throughout the game, refusing to fight for a single ball. In fact, Racing's overall display in the curtailed contest was not wholly dissimilar to the performance of Barcelona’s midfield and defence in its activity over 60 minutes against Valencia on Saturday. This may make La Real narrow favourites in the week long affair.
Visiting manager Jagoba Arrasate certainly seems to hope so, claiming that the current generation of players “deserve a final.” Which version of his team turn up on Wednesday will make a huge difference to how Real Sociedad fare in the double-headed clash.
If it's Real Sociedad v1.0 which lost 4-1 in the Camp Nou to Barça earlier this season, was thrashed 5-1 by Villarreal and collapsed 4-0 to Atlético Madrid at the weekend, then the games should be comfy ones for Barcelona, no matter what artistic defensive stylings Gerard Pique attempts during the encounters.
However, if Rebooted La Real are cooking on all hobs and Antoine Griezmann is in a mood for mayhem, then Barcelona are going to have quite the contest on their hands over two matches to decide who wants to go through to the final to get kicked to pieces by Atlético Madrid or a girly face-palm from Cristiano Ronaldo.
It's the capital clash between Atlético and Real Madrid that really gets the juices flowing, for the simple reason that the result is no longer a forgone conclusion and an inevitable victory for the Santiago Bernabeu side. All that changed last May when Diego Simeone walked into the lion’s den - or kitten’s litter tray in terms of ferocious atmosphere - and beat José Mourinho’s Madrid in last season’s final.
To prove that it was no fluke, Atlético repeated the feat early doors in La Liga. Simeone says that Real Madrid have improved considerably since that match at the end of September, which ended with a 1-0 win and a goal from Diego Costa; 'tis true – Madrid could hardly have gotten any worse.
At time of writing the local papers are working the campaign strings to get Ronaldo’s suspension lifted after receiving a red card against Athletic Bilbao. A great deal concerning the length of the suspension will be centered on a “blimey, you’ve got cheek” face-slap from the Real Madrid man after his dismissal and whether it was interpreted as being directed towards one of the match officials.
Still, it’s hard to know how seriously Madrid are taking the affair, considering that the side will be using their back-up keeper Iker Casillas. However, to be fair, the club captain has a fairly spectacular run of form of late, having gone 682 minutes unbeaten.
But Atlético Madrid’s thang over the past 12 months has been pushing over the apple-cart of history and dancing in the puddle of the present. This makes the current league leaders narrow favourites in the local tussle, kicking off with Wednesday’s epic encounter.