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

The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to watch out for in the Copa del Rey tie between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The 2022/23 Copa del Rey is reaching its final hurdle, with the first leg of the semi-finals scheduled for this week. Real Madrid and Barcelona will meet in the marque fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday, with the match-up being the third El Clasico of the season.

Real Madrid took the scenic route to the Copa del Rey semi-finals, beating Atletico Madrid along the way. But their form has been hit-and-miss thus far this season. And Los Blancos will come into this game on the back of a 1-1 draw with ten-man Atletico Madrid. So Carlo Ancelotti needs his men to step up.

On the other hand, Barcelona beat Real Sociedad in the quarter-finals after getting past less heralded opponents in the previous rounds. But like the hosts, the Catalan giants have suffered in the last few games. And Xavi Hernandez’s men come into this fixture on the back of successive defeats.

With both teams experiencing uncharacteristic runs, the match sets up to become an intriguing affair. Real Madrid and Barcelona both need a win, which can also have an effect on the title race in La Liga. And a few stars can turn the tie on their own over the course of the ninety minutes. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three key players to watch out for in the upcoming fixture.

Federico Valverde

Will Valverde make his mark again? (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

We start our list with one of the most improved players in the 2022/23 season. And considering he was already among the most promising prospects in the world in the last few years, that is one mean feat. We are speaking about Federico Valverde, a player reborn under Carlo Ancelotti.

As has been the case throughout the season, Valverde will be a hybrid right-winger/wide midfielder. And Ancelotti will look to the Uruguayan international to provide a goal threat in the final third. At the same time, the 24-year-old will put in the hard yards in the defensive phases.

Ancelotti’s idea behind fielding Valverde as the right-sided winger is to add a layer of defensive protection. And with Dani Carvajal being a shell of the dominant full-back of his pomp, Valverde becomes a pivotal figure. And it is no wonder that his performances have attracted Manchester United.

Amid all the transfer talk, Valverde remains a consummate professional. And the 24-year-old will look to pounce on the space he will find to exploit behind the Barcelona left-back. Expect another world-class performance from the ever-improving Uruguayan international.

Frenkie de Jong

Frenkie de Jong will have to play out of his skin. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

We go from one Manchester United target to another. This player has been on the Red Devils’ radar for well over a year. But like Valverde, he remains committed to his club, albeit Barcelona. The star midfielder in question is none other than Frenkie de Jong.

The Dutchman has snubbed Manchester United time and again. Yet, the Premier League giants remain hell-bent on pursuing him for a second successive summer. Meanwhile, de Jong has won over Xavi Hernandez to become a pivotal figure for Barcelona. And he will be crucial in the midfield battle on Thursday.

The 25-year-old will likely have the freedom to express himself in the middle of the park, with Sergio Busquets and Franck Kessie sitting behind him. And he needs to use that freedom to slice open a vulnerable Real Madrid defence on Thursday.

With Barcelona missing Robert Lewandowski, de Jong needs to be prolific with his output, as Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati, and Raphinha are not as clinical as the veteran Polish striker. So how he fares in the middle of the park will go a long way in determining the game’s outcome.

Aurelien Tchouameni

The final player on our list features the other face of the midfield battle. We are, of course, talking about Aurelien Tchouameni, who has endured a difficult second half of the 2022/23 season thus far.

The Frenchman is living his dream after becoming a world champion with Real Madrid. But he has endured fitness issues in the last few weeks. The flu had also struck the young midfielder, who has finally regained fitness ahead of El Clasico. And he now needs to embark on a memorable run to help stabilise Real Madrid’s season.

The 23-year-old will provide a solid base in front of a backline that has shown a soft underbelly in the last few games. At the same time, Tchouameni will need to open up play with his trademark long passes. With Luka Modric and Toni Kroos handling the rest of the playmaking duties, his off-the-ball work becomes more crucial.

Tchouameni will need to keep Frenkie de Jong quiet. And if he succeeds, Barcelona will endure a long night against Real Madrid on Thursday. So the battle of the middle of the park will be the fight within the latest instalment of the Barcelona-Real Madrid warfare.

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