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Newly confident Real Madrid to face Barcelona in cup semifinal

Xinhua | Updated: 2019-02-05 20:11
Barcelona's Luis Suarez and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos react during La Liga Santander at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain on Oct 28, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

MADRID - Spain's two biggest football clubs go head to head once again when FC Barcelona entertain Real Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal in the Camp Nou stadium.

The first game between the two teams this season ended with Barca thrashing their traditional rivals 5-1 at the end of October, with a Luis Suarez hat-trick playing its role in Julen Lopetegui's sacking as Madrid coach.

Things have improved under successor Santiago Solari, whose side have won seven of their last eight matches, and although there is a feeling that Madrid have not been really tested, there is little doubt of a new confidence in their play, with Karim Benzema scoring goals almost at will and Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr. injecting pace and enthusiasm to their attack.

Madrid will be at full strength for Wednesday's game, with Dani Carvajal returning at right-back and Raphael Varane returning after suspension, and perhaps Solari's biggest decision is whether Marcelo plays on the left side of defense, where he provides an attacking outlet.

However, the Brazilian's suspect positioning was targeted time and again by Barca earlier in the campaign, and Solari may place his trust in youngster Sergio Reguilon, who may not get forward as much in attack, but leaves less space for rivals to exploit.

Barca are still sweating on the fitness of Lionel Messi, who picked up a minor thigh strain in their 2-2 draw at home to Valencia on Saturday. Messi didn't train on Monday and the next 36 hours will determine if he can recover in time to face Madrid.

Ousmane Dembele should be available after shaking off both an ankle injury and a bout of flu, though Barca boss Ernesto Valverde will probably prefer not to risk him so soon.

Elsewhere Jordi Alba (left-back), Clement Lenglet (center-back) and Sergio Busquets (midfield) will all return to the lineup, and Valverde must decide which of Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo gets the nod at right-back.

The return leg in Madrid isn't until February 27, but what happens in Barcelona on Wednesday night will play a large part in determining which team reaches the final.

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