With Real Madrid and Barcelona's Champions League campaigns hanging in a balance after their Round of 16 First Leg clashes respectively, this week’s double-edition of El Clasico could end up being a "make or break" games for each team's season.
When Raphäel Varane scored an equalizer for Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey semifinal tie against Barcelona, it gave Los Merengues' season a new life.
On Tuesday night, both teams will lock horns in a Clasico, this one the second leg at Camp Nou. Then on Saturday, they will meet again in another Clasico, this time in a league game at the Bernabeu in Madrid, but with much less on the line.
Finally, Real will travel to Old Trafford next week for the crunch second leg match up with Manchester United – the sides drew 1-1 in Spain two weeks ago. Barcelona are still cruising atop La Liga and will capture that trophy without a problem, but their season has taken a turn for the worse recently.
Varane's goal was an extremely minor setback compared to last week's performance at the San Siro, where they were soundly beaten 2-0 by a superior AC Milan side in the first leg of the Round of 16 Champions League clash. Real Madrid, on the other hand are in third place and 16 points behind the league leaders Barcelona but are virtually assured of Champions League qualification.
Compared to these two teams, Manchester United have an easy home assignment against Norwich City on Saturday meaning they have this whole week off before facing Madrid next Tuesday. The English Premier League leaders are looking good to snatch their title back after opening up a 12-point lead between them and current champions Manchester City.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be keenly watching the proceedings that take place in Spain for the next five days and will prepare his side against Norwich City in a similar vein to that against Real Madrid. The United gaffer will be fully aware that this might also be a crucial week for his side too as they chase that elusive treble again.
Real Madrid are more than capable enough to win at Old Trafford and knock United out, but this certainly won’t be easy as the fixture pile-up will be a big–headache for Jose Mourinho. Although people might argue that Saturday’s league match is of not much importance as Barcelona have one hand on the trophy with an unassailable lead and Mourinho might rest his key players for clash against United, but with Real-Barca matches comes pride and a chance to register a stamp of authority over each other. Yet Mourinho also knows that how he is remembered at Madrid probably depends on this week.
These have been difficult years for him in Spain and he clearly has not enjoyed his time as he did in England; he flirts with the Premier League at virtually every opportunity. Asked what he so liked about England a fortnight ago, he said: "Everything". While the Copa Del Rey isn’t as prestigious as La Liga or the Champions League for that matter, it’s likely both Barca and Real will field full-strength sides, as they did in the first leg. This also may well be the only real opportunity for Madrid to get one over their old enemy this season. It’s also likely that Ferguson might rest a number of key players ahead of their Champions League clash.
Robin Van Persie suffered a “bizarre hip injury” at the weekend, but is recuperating well and will hope to be fresh for Tuesday’s big match along with his team-mates. The United manager has also been seen moaning in the past about the bizarre schedule for matches but his team will have nothing to complain compared to Jose Mourinho’s men who play twice in a week.
The Former Chelsea boss will have to something to cheer about after all as it is learned that both Spanish clubs have already taken steps towards protecting their players for the Champions League. Instead of the normal late-Saturday kickoff, this Bernabeu Clasico will start at 4 p.m. local time, thus giving Madrid players an extra few hours rest before facing United.
As neither side looks like the current team to beat in the Champions League, this weeks doubleheader matches could be a make-or-break one in the seasons of both Barcelona and Real Madrid. Sir Alex Ferguson's eye will be cast over the league meeting with Barcelona, for sure, but it will surely not be drawn towards it too greatly. What will matter for him is his own team’s performance and desire on the field which will define their own destiny.