Copa del Rey final preview - El Clasico round 3
Held on neutral ground at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium, two of the biggest teams in world football meet to contest the King's cup. With Barcelona (10/11 in 90 mins) now virtually assured of the league title after drawing 1-1 with their eternal rivals, Real Madrid (14/5 in 90 mins), in the Bernabeu at the weekend, is it finally Los Blancos turn to win a Clasico?
Showing my age and reluctance to watch adverts since the invention of Sky+, like the man from Del Monte I say yes. Given that Barca are clearly the better team and, including the 5-0 demolition of Real in the first Clasico matchup at the Nou Camp earlier this season, have now enjoyed five wins and a draw in their last six meetings with Los Blancos, why do I think the tide turns tonight you might ask?
Well, it's quite simple. In the previews I penned for the opening weekend of the current Primera division season I wrote this: "Barcelona are set for another La Liga and Champions league double in this writer's eyes. The Copa del Rey, however, will be won by Real Madrid as Mourinho must win something to merit his potential white hanky waving football."
To elaborate further: Real's manager last season, former Villarreal and current Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini, played attractive, attacking football and although he finished second (to one of the greatest teams ever assembled), Real attained their highest ever points tally in a league season under the Chilean.
Considering the above while factoring in that Mourinho has played mostly negative, unattractive football and will come nowhere near a record points tally or a league title, tonight's cup final is a must win for Jose if he wants to do what Pellegrini couldn't and remain at the helm for a second season.
However, should Real lose tonight, Jose could still save face by beating Barca in the Champions League semi finals, but I just don't see that happening in a two legged affair - it's now or never in my eyes.
Tonight I expect Jose to employ a cautious, defensive counter attacking game with Real sitting deep around their box. Of course, inviting Barca to attack them is a very dangerous game to play but, well aware that he can't go toe to toe with the Catalans, what choice does the Portuguese have?
Choices aplenty for punters are, however, available in scoring related markets, the most obvious of which are Messi (4/1 to score first, evens anytime) and Ronaldo (5/1 to score first, 5/4 anytime). Notably, for the first time, both Lionel and Cristiano scored in a Clasico when each netted a penalty at the weekend.
Staying with penalties, William Hill offers a special Match Winner Offer of 3/1 about a penalty being scored in the match. Providing the ref is not scared of giving one to either team during the 90 minutes or potential extra time (penalty shootout excluded), this could be a tempting offer.
Given my expectations of a tight, cagey affair, under 2.5 goals is a tempting bet at 11/10, but then a 2-1 scoreline either way would finish that bet off and that cannot be ruled out.
Ruled out of tonight's game through injury will probably be Barca's Carles Puyol, a player who, despite being past his best, is a very, very important part of Barcelona's defence. Without him marshalling their box, Barca concede more goals than they normally would.
As a potential replacement for Puyol, it's been muted that former Liverpool defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano will fill the Spaniards boots in central defence. An interesting move when you consider that although the Argentine has the main requirements of being a Barca defender - namely pace and good positioning - he doesn't have the height required to deal with a tall, physical presence like Adebayor.
Whoever plays in central defence for Barca (Busquets is another option), my opinion as to who will win the Copa del Rey will not change. By what method Real wins it I can't be sure but, as I've already bet on Real winning the cup pre-season, I'll be betting on the 90 minute outcome.
Real Madrid have not won the cup since 1993, tonight I think Jose takes it back to Madrid and earns his only silverware of the season. Make sure you tune in to see if I'm right.
Recommendation: Real Madrid to win the cup (11/8)
Worth a punt: Real Madrid in 90 mins (14/5)