Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Three key players to watch out for

That Hard Tackle looks at three key players for the upcoming meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

The Copa del Rey is reaching its conclusion for the 2022/23 season. And just two matches remain to crown the latest winners of the King’s Cup. Barcelona and Real Madrid will meet in the second leg of their semi-final tie on Wednesday, with the winner facing Osasuna in next month’s final.

Barcelona began the Copa del Rey campaign with a nervy 4-3 win over CF Intercity in the Round of 32. But since then, they have not conceded a single goal, getting past AD Ceuta and Real Sociedad in the last two stages. And the Catalan giants have been going from strength to strength lately, getting close to winning the league title, with Real Madrid 12 points behind.

Speaking of Real Madrid, Los Blancos endured tricky ties against Cacareno, Villarreal, and Atletico Madrid before losing the first leg to Barcelona last month. And their struggles in the league mean the Merengues are not going to defend their La Liga crown. So the Copa del Rey is the only source of a domestic trophy this season.

But with Barcelona only a goal ahead in the aggregate scoreline, Real Madrid will have the chance to overturn the deficit. With the tie delicately poised, the final result can turn at any instant. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle looks at three players who can singlehandedly flip the match on Wednesday.

Karim Benzema

Our list begins with someone who has been inarguably the best player in La Liga for the last half a decade. And despite several fitness issues, he remains prolific, often leading by example. We are, of course, talking about Real Madrid’s Captain Fantastic, Karim Benzema.

Benzema came into the 2022/23 season as the odds-on favourite to win the Ballon d’Or. But while he invariably won the coveted honour, injuries have plagued his campaign thus far. And the veteran striker also endured a World Cup to forget, with his international career ending in controversy.

But the Frenchman has gradually moved past the disappointment of his run-in with Didier Deschamps to rediscover top form. And Benzema warmed up for the latest El Clasico by scoring a hat-trick against Real Valladolid this past weekend.

The 35-year-old has seemingly regained his touch, which bodes well for Real Madrid. But with Barcelona finding ways to neutralise Los Blancos, he will have to produce magic to inspire his team to a comeback win. That said, if there is one Real Madrid player who can conjure up exceptional moments when you need them most, it is Benzema. So expect a game-changing display.

Ansu Fati

From a player who has been on top of his game for a long time to one who has struggled to match up to the promise he showed early in his career. But like Karim Benzema, he has seen fitness issues plague him for some time. The star in question is Ansu Fati.

The Spanish international rose to prominence by bursting into the limelight in the 2019/20 season. But persistent injury troubles have hampered the youngster, whose performance levels have gone down the drain as a result. And he has consequently fallen down the pecking order in the Barcelona attack.

The 20-year-old recently saw his father come to blows with Barcelona, suggesting he wants him to leave. But Fati quickly moved to shut down talks of a departure, reaffirming his desire to remain at Spotify Camp Nou. But that has not stopped the rumour mill from growing abuzz, with Arsenal, Chelsea, and several other clubs keen on signing him.

The academy graduate warmed up for the midweek fixture by scoring a brilliant goal in the emphatic win over Elche. And Fati will hope to carry the confidence from the performance by delivering the goods for Barcelona against Real Madrid. And if he rises to the occasion, Robert Lewandowski will see a huge weight lift off his shoulders.

Luka Modric

Our list does not end with an attacker. And we instead move to the midfield unit. The player in question is a midfielder who has made a habit of producing extraordinary moments out of nothing. We are, of course, talking about Luka Modric.

The Croatian international is ageing like fine wine, going from strength to strength with each passing season. And despite being closer to his 40th birthday than his 30th, he is showing no signs of slowing down, becoming a tireless workhorse for Real Madrid and Croatia.

The 37-year-old recently guided the Vatreni to a third-place finish at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. That was Croatia’s second successive podium finish, with both campaigns illustrating his value to the national side. And it also holds true for Modric’s stature at Real Madrid.

Carlo Ancelotti chose to preserve the Croat for Wednesday’s game by resting him this past weekend against Real Valladolid. Modric will thus arrive at Spotify Camp Nou ready to make his mark. So expect the veteran to rise to the occasion if the visitors upset Barcelona this midweek.

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