5 things to know about the Copa del Rey semifinals
MADRID (AP) — January’s onslaught of Copa del Rey games has finally yielded semifinal brackets, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid facing off in a crosstown derby and Barcelona playing Real Sociedad in the two-leg matches.
Atletico is on a two-game winning streak against its crosstown rival after previously going 25 games and 14 years without a win against Madrid. Atletico also travels to the Santiago Bernabeu — site of its Copa del Rey final victory over Madrid last May — as Spanish leader for the first time since 1996.
Sociedad travels to Barcelona with both teams coming off the heels of disappointing league losses at the weekend.
Here are five things to know about Wednesday’s first-leg matchups:
Cristiano Ronaldo was waiting Monday to know if he would be available after seeing a straight red card in Madrid’s 1-1 league draw at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Ronaldo will receive a ban, but if it is under four games then the Portugal forward will be available on Wednesday.
“From the images I’ve seen, the red card seems a little exaggerated,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, whose team has gone 21 games without a loss.
Ronaldo, who has scored 32 goals from 30 appearances this season, will learn of his sanction later Monday.
Atletico Madrid will be without striker David Villa after the Spain striker strained a muscle in his left leg soon after scoring in Atletico’s 4-0 league victory over Sociedad on Sunday.
Villa and Diego Costa have combined for 36 goals this season to help put Atletico top of the Spanish standings for the first time in 18 years.
Atletico remains without back Filipe Luis, but his substitute Emiliano Insua has filled in admirably, plus the arrival of midfielder Jose Sousa has gelled.
Atletico has also been able to count on the return of midfielder Mario Suarez from injury, plus the arrival of Diego in the winter transfer window, with the Brazilian midfielder scoring on Sunday.
BALE, NEYMAR ON MEND
Gareth Bale trained with his Madrid teammates on Monday, and is expected to be available against Atletico after missing the league match against Bilbao.
Ancelotti said Bale just needed time to get match fit after picking up a calf injury last week, but that the Wales winger should be ready to play on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Neymar returned to training with Barcelona on Monday for the first time since picking up a right ankle sprain more than two weeks ago.
While it’s only one loss, a home defeat has left Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino preoccupied his team may be on the verge of another funk.
Barcelona hadn’t lost in more than two months, since two consecutive defeats left the Argentine coach bewildered about the team’s motivation, and onlookers still wonder if Barcelona has embraced Martino’s style.
“Every coach has their ways and their ideas,” Lionel Messi said. “Tito (Vilanova) coached us before, which was similar to (Pep) Guardiola since they worked together all those years, and now we have Tata, who comes from a different background and you notice the difference.”
Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Valencia at the Camp Nou comes on the heels of Sandro Rosell’s resignation as club president with Neymar’s transfer to the club under investigation by a Spanish court.
After a disappointing Champions League run that saw it exit the competition without a victory, Real Sociedad will be looking to leave the Camp Nou without a deficit and hopefully restore some of the shine of an irregular season.
Sociedad hasn’t quite recovered from the exit of coach Philippe Montanier and midfielder Asier Illaramendi, and it trails Basque neighbor Bilbao by seven points in the chase for the league’s final Champions League qualifying place.
“We have to learn from our errors,” defender Inigo Martinez said after the 4-0 loss at Atletico. “We’ve got a tough game next so we have to raise our heads and go forward.”
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