Barcelona v. Real Madrid: Copa del Rey First Leg Preview

Due to the uncertainty of Lionel Messi's availability, Ernesto Valverde is the manager with the ace up his sleeve. Barcelona may also have the mental advantage heading into the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals after their 5-1 domination of the reigning European Champions. That said, this is Madrid manager Santiago Solari's first El Clásico, so if there is any game for a rah-rah speech for the ages it's this one.

Real Madrid is trending upward at the perfect time for the match-up with their rivals. Five straight wins for the club that have coincided with an uptick in success for Karim Benzema have Los Blancos looking much more dangerous than they were at the start of the season, but that isn't saying much. With Madrid trying to pull off their yearly push to challenge for the Champions League, it's a wonder who needs the Copa del Rey more.

The Barcelona Podcast spoke this week with Jon Driscoll of Sky Sports about the stakes for both teams:

Check out the entire conversation:

The first El Clásico in some time without Cristiano Ronaldo earlier this season should be a reminder to Culés that there are still plenty of characters to create plenty of narratives heading into the game. Captain Sergio Ramos will always be the prime antagonist, but some of the youngsters are saying all the right things to get the boos at the Camp Nou. Much like Carles Aleñà, this will potentially be the first El Clásico for 18-year-old Vinícius Júnior as neither player was in their respective squads for the first match-up this season. The electric Brazilian who chose Madrid over Barcelona will surely not be making any friends in the Camp Nou with his tricks and flair. While Solari decides between Marcelo and academy product Sergio Reguilón at left-back, Valverde is also faced with a difficult decision at right-back.

Most of the talking points surrounding Barcelona are not dedicated to their rivals, but rather the decisions that need to be made to ensure that the team survives a tough stretch of games that will test their depth and resolve. While Barcelona has fallen behind on the road in the last two first legs of the Copa del Rey, a first leg at home does not provide the same security this time. Whether or not Messi plays will not answer the question that fans and pundits alike will be asking leading up to and after the match; should Messi play? Valverde will not throw in the fringe first team players as he did in the first legs in previous rounds and don't expect to see many surprises. Losing to Real Madrid, regardless of competition, has the unfortunate effect of lingering around a manager for longer than they would like. Get the result and get out and double that when they hit the road in a few weeks for the second leg at the Bernabéu.

Due to the nature of the competition and Barcelona's recent dominance almost watering down the fanfare involved in winning the trophy, signs point to a match that will be conservative by both teams with an eye on deciding the tie in a winner-take-all second leg. Yet, it is El Clásico. It's the times when you expect them to behave when things really go off the rails.