There are two contentious rivalry matches this midweek. Thus, we bring you a special Wednesday edition of the Onion Bag. Real Madrid and Barcelona play round two of their four-match set, in the Copa del Rey final (3:30, GolTV). Arsenal and Tottenham square off in a North London Derby, which is a must-win for both clubs. (2:30, ESPN2).
Reign in Spain: English pundits wax historical to augment the romance of the world’s first cup competition. Spain’s spry 109-year-old Copa del Rey is merely Spain’s least important. Barcelona have won 25 times, last winning in 2009. Real Madrid have reached the most finals 36, but have won only 17 of them. The last one was in 1993. This will be the sixth classico final, with Barcelona having won three of the first five.
Barcelona will be Barcelona, but how does Real Madrid line up? Their three-man defensive midfield – Alonso, Khedira, Pepe – effectively countered Barcelona. Though, that “effectiveness” could simply have been Barcelona coasting. Mourinho’s men played better when forced to go for it, a man down with ten men on the pitch.
Lionel Messi could score his Barcelona-record 50th goal this season. He has 49 in 47 appearances thus far. He’s the top scorer in the Primera Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. Since the summer of 2008, Messi has 134 goals and 52 assists in 151 appearances.
Barcelona aren’t just playing to be the best team in Spain or the best team in Europe. With a sustained run of success, they’re playing to be the best club team of all-time. Here’s how they would match up with the consensus best team, Arrigo Saachi’s A.C. Milan.
Playing at a neutral site, Soccer Power Index makes Barcelona 59.4 percent favorites.
Not Dead, Yet: Arsenal still have a chance, though it is a slim one. Man United unexpectedly dropped two points in a 0-0 draw with Newcastle yesterday. If Arsenal beat Spurs, they close the gap to four points with five matches remaining. Arsenal would need to beat Manchester United at the Emirates and win their four other remaining fixtures (at Bolton, at Stoke, Aston Villa, at Fulham). The Gunners would then have to hope Man U dropped points in one other match, likely at home against Chelsea or at Blackburn. United has won just five of its 17 away fixtures this season, though they are at 15-0-1 at home.
Though given a reprieve, Arsenal must capitalize on it, which would require a radical change in fortune. Since Feb. 1, They dropped eight points coughing up a 4-0 second half lead at Newcastle and drawing at home to Sunderland, Blackburn and Liverpool. Had they come through in even one of those four matches, they would control their own fortune. Failure today will only fuel the persistent and increasingly bold questions about the manager and the club’s youth policy.
Spurs also need to win this match. Three points would move them level for the fourth Champions League place with Manchester City. However, City have an easy run to the finish. Tottenham still travel to Chelsea and Liverpool and have deceptively tough home fixtures against Blackburn and Blackpool, both fighting to avoid relegation.
[Photos via Getty]