The Copa del Rey semi-final draw at the Benito Villamarín, where the final will be held, left Valencia and Betis happy and Real Madrid and Barcelona less so, with the pair drawn together for two Clásicos during what will now be a very complicated spell on the calendar. The first legs will be on 6 and 7 of February in Barcelona and Seville respectively, followed by the return legs on 27 February, in Valencia and Madrid. The final is set for 25 May. Two enthralling semi-finals, well balanced and hard to predict. Valencia are beginning to find their feet, after an unexpectedly poor start to the season and Betis are playing well. And for their part the two giants are both looking good right now. Barcelona have Messi on fine form and Real Madrid are now functioning under Solari.
If at any point Barcelona did have the temptation to save their energy in the Copa that is very much no longer the case. They went to Sevilla without Messi (against Getafe he didn’t start, but came on from the bench to sort the situation out) and lost 2-0. Piqué’s words after the match seemed to confirm that Barcelona weren’t too fussed about wasting their strength in the tournament. But that idea was quickly ruled out in the return leg, when they put out their full strength team against Sevilla at the Camp Nou and won 6-1. It’s been years since Barcelona knocked Athletic off their throne as Kings of the Cup, and now facing their eternal rivals they have even more desire to reclaim ‘their’ trophy.
For Real Madrid, ten points behind Barça in the Liga, this is an opportunity that comes at a good time, because they’ve recovered a lot of injured players and are playing well. The return leg is at the Bernabéu. That said, however, for both Real Madrid and Barcelona facing a double-header against their biggest rivals is an exhausting prospect right at the time when minds are focused on the Champions League once again. And for Real Madrid, the first game is right next to the derby against Atlético Madrid. So for all the preparations in terms of the fixture list, the footballing gods have decided to turn things upside down and put two massive matches between Spain’s biggest clubs in February. The Copa del Rey takes centre stage. I like it.