Copa Clasico taking shape for semi-finals
Lionel Messi will have the record of a Real Madrid legend - and fellow Argentinian - in his sights in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final between Barcelona and Real at the Bernabeu tomorrow.
The Argentinian has shattered records all over the place in the last 12 months, surpassing Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals in a calendar year with 91 in 2012, and at the weekend he became the youngest player to reach 200 goals in La Liga.
Next on Messi's hitlist is the chance to equal - or overtake - Alfredo di Stefano's record of 18 goals in Clasico fixtures, as Barcelona seek to retain the trophy. Assistant boss Jordi Roura, who is looking after first-team affairs while manager Tito Vilanova continues his recovery from cancer treatment, said at a press conference today: "Clasicos are very close matches that can be decided by small details. We must be prepared."
Asked how he was treating his first Clasico as the main man in the dugout, Roura added: "I am in a pretty quiet mood - it's one more game. I don't play, and these players are so extraordinary and that's what makes me calm, naturally.
"I'm here because my boss and my friend (Vilanova) is in a difficult situation and we will all try to pull this off. We're going to Madrid to play a good game. If we win great, if not we have another game on Sunday."
Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets expects there will still be all to play for in the tie for the second leg at the Nou Camp on 26 February. "A good result would be a win, not a draw," he told fcbarcelona.com. "It'll be a close game and I don't think a bad result would sink either team, because there's a way to go before the second leg."
Barcelona have defender Gerard Pique available again after he served a one-match ban against Osasuna at the weekend, while Eric Abidal, Marc Muniesa and Jonathan dos Santos are on the injured list.
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is in no doubt as to the stature of this game. "I think that it's the best match in the world," he told realmadrid.com. "Barcelona and Real Madrid are two great squads. It's a difficult match and the atmosphere will be really charged. It's a good match. We're playing at home and we know that it's a two-game round, the best thing for us would be to win tomorrow and score goals."
Real Madrid's new goalkeeper Diego Lopez trained with Real for the first time on Monday since joining from Sevilla, who are involved in the second semi-final against Atletico Madrid. The first leg of that tie will be played in the Spanish capital on Thursday night.
New Sevilla coach Unai Emery, who led his side to a 3-0 victory over Granada in league action on Monday night, believes his side must "recover quickly" to stand any chance of a positive result against high-flying Atletico.
Emery will monitor the fitness of goalkeeper Andres Palop, who missed the Granada game, with Julian primed to feature if he does not recover. Alberto Moreno and Juan Cala (both calf) could return to the squad for the match at the Vicente Calderon.
Atletico striker Radamel Falcao did not train with the main group today as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury, while defender Domingo Cisma was not involved due to a right ankle problem.