Barcelona looks to land the knockout blow against arch-rivals Real Madrid Tuesday at the Camp Nou, with a berth in the Champions League Final on the line. (TV: FOX Soccer, 2 p.m. ET)
Barcelona held off Real Madrid to reach the Copa del Rey final.
Eric Abdial's late goal gave Barcelona a lead after the first leg of the Copa del Rey.
Pepe quickly issues apology for stomp on Lionel Messi's hand.
Richard Farley looks at the reputation-defining effects of the Clasicos.
It's the final "gran clasico" of the season, and for Real Madrid to survive, they will have to come up with some answers for a swarming Catalan attack that left Madrid depleted in numbers and down by two goals last Wednesday. Now, Real Madrid must regroup and find someway to beat a team that looks destined, and they must do it without suspended Sergio Ramos and Pepe - and with their coach, Jose Mourinho, banished to the stands.
In truth, neither side covered themselves in glory last week. The four-game series was billed as an historic quartet of blockbusters that could show the best the sport has to offer. Instead, we've seen grueling, gritty and fouling football, reaching its nadir last Wednesday with both teams resorting to outright cheating. The flops, faking and feinting were so outrageous they reduced the game to farce, and it's hard not to think that the game will be remembered as a stain on the sport.
That fact didn't seem to get through to either side. Both clubs lobbed accusations and filed paperwork, with Madrid accusing six Barcelona players of systematic cheating in the aftermath of that stormy encounter. UEFA rejected all of these Monday morning and in so doing declined to send a strong message about theatrics to both teams. Both teams, however, are still under investigation: Barcelona, for an ugly halftime tunnel tussle that saw backup keeper Jose Pinto red-carded; and Madrid for Mourniho's assertions that the referees and footballing establishment favor Barcelona.
Mourinho has his own problems, of course. Hailed as a hero just a week prior after lifting the Copa Del Rey, he is today under heavy fire in this game's run-up. His star player, Cristiano Ronaldo, pointedly condemned his tactics and a virtual who's who of football have blasted his post-game outbursts. The latest: Ottmar Hitzfeld, who joined Johan Cruyff and former Real great Alfredo Di Stefano to stick the knife in. Hitzfeld, one of the select trio to win a European Cup with two different clubs, called the manager a "boor" to Kicker Magazine and labeled his tactics a stain on Real Madrid's great name.
Those tactics - which failed miserably - attempted to choke off Barcelona's passing midfield and blunt their Hyrda-headed attacking machine of Xavi, Lionel Messi and David Villa. Instead, Real looked aimless, failing to get behind Barcelona's fullbacks and stranding Ronaldo up high alone too often.
What also hurt Mourinho was his mouth. His needling of Barcelona's players, coach and the club's traditions clearly contributed to the overheated atmosphere on the pitch. He apparently hasn't learned his lesson yet, doubling down by insisting that Tuesday's official, Belgian Franck de Bleeckere, is biased against his side. Real Madrid backed up their manager by posting a video on their website that attempts to lobby de Bleeckere and published an article that pointedly notes that Madrid have won only one of five past matches that the Belgian has overseen.
Tuesday, Mourinho will have to find some way to get Angel Di Maria and Ronaldo involved alongside Emanuel Adebayor while not conceding acres of space. Sami Khedira is again unlikely to be available, meaning Mesut Ozil will have to carry a huge load in midfield running off Xabi Alonso.
Barcelona has its own issues: Gabriel Milito tore a muscle Saturday in their shock 2-1 loss to Real Sociedad - that further weakens their defense. Eric Abidal has been out following surgery for a liver tumor, joining Maxwell (groin) and Adriano (leg) and meaning that Barcelona may have to shift defensive midfielders into fullback roles. Carlos Puyol will again deputize at left back. They do however get influential midfielder Andres Iniesta back after he missed the first leg.
The key battle for fans of course will be Messi, architect of Barcelona's first leg win, against Ronaldo, who was compeletely off form. Ronaldo, normally one of the best dead-ball specialists in the game, muffed three free kicks badly and was visibly frustrated. Messi, on the other hand, showed a class that eluded many of his teammates, scoring one of the great individual goals of the tournament to ice the win.
If Messi retains the edge he has shown all season long, it is likely to be another long night for the Madrid faithful.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.