Spanish football supporters have been handed an unexpected bonus in the form of two Copa del Rey El Clásico showdowns in the month of February.

With the league return at the Santiago Bernabeu scheduled for directly after the second leg, the next few weeks promises to be all-important for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, who’ll want to win the cup for differing reasons.

Los Blancos aren’t strong enough to retain the Champions League again, and though they’re not out of the La Liga title race, it’s Barcelona’s to lose at present.

So, realistically, the cup is their only chance of silverware in 2018/19.

Barcelona’s stated aim at the beginning of the campaign was to win the Champions League, with it generally expected that the cup was the least of their priorities.

Anyone who saw their comeback against Sevilla in the quarterfinals would strongly disagree with that statement, however.

Plus, if Barca can win the cup again this year, it will be a record-breaking fifth in a row.

Let’s take a look at three things that could shape the outcome of the first match in this trilogy…

Messi

No better place to start than with the one player who, when he’s on song, can win a game all on his own.

Fortunately for the Catalans, Real remain one of his favourite opponents, and though he went through a dry spell of six games without scoring against them, that’s over now.

He missed the last Clasico, and Los Blancos will hope the niggle he picked up against Valencia at the weekend, gives him something more to worry about.

Should he be uninhibited, then Real need to work in the same way Los Che did and be disciplined in their shape for the entire 90 minutes, working only on the counter attack.

Leo will pick passes all night long, and if he’s given space anywhere close to the area, the man in form is going to take his chances.

Bale’s pace

This is the one weapon that Real still possess which worries the hell out of the Blaugrana.

Even with Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo in situ, neither of whom are slouches themselves, Barca are susceptible to pace on the break. Valencia proved that time and again last time out.

Bale knows that Barcelona will leave gaps in behind the full-backs, and it’s imperative that his team-mates take advantage of any possession and play him into that space.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been missed, there’s no doubt about that, however, Karim Benzema is playing himself into form and he’ll benefit from the Welshman’s nous as much as anyone.

Midfield control

Though both teams can be decisive in attack and also poor at times in defence, whomever gains control in the middle of the park will win this first leg.

It’s imperative for Barcelona that Ernesto Valverde finds room for Arthur Melo. His possession and passing stats for the Catalans in his debut season have been sensational, and he offers stability alongside Sergio Busquets.

Though Dani Ceballos has given Real coach, Santiago Solari, food for thought with his performances in recent games, it would be a surprise to see any other three than Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos at least start the match.

Lest we forget Isco, who, although out of favour at the club, can provide the key to unlocking this game with his particular blend of skills.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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