Barcelona depleted for Copa ‘clasico’ against Real Madrid

MADRID (AP) — Barcelona had been scoring at ease, getting plenty of goals from its forwards to keep thriving in the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey.

Lack of offensive prowess was far from a problem for the Catalan club.

But things have changed entering a crucial part of the season, with Barcelona attracting attention for a series of injuries in attack and enduring a poor scoring run.

Barcelona will be without some of its top scorers when it visits Real Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals on Thursday. And it’s not known if they will be fit when the rivals meet again in a decisive Spanish league match in a few weeks.

Barcelona will head to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium without Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri because of injuries. The trio have combined for 40 goals this season, with 25 coming from Lewandowski, eight from Dembélé and seven from Pedri.

Lewandowski is out with a hamstring strain sustained in the 1-0 loss at Almería on Sunday, which marked the first time Barcelona failed to score a goal in a match since October. Pedri and Dembélé are nursing muscle injuries.

“We are missing three important players, but we can still compete,” Barcelona coach Xavi said Wednesday. “More than ever, we need to play as a team. We have to play with personality.”

Forward Ansu Fati also has been injured recently but was expected to be available for Xavi at the Bernabéu.

He could play on the left side of the attack, with Raphinha on the right and Ferran Torres coming in as a striker. Torres had one of his best games with Barcelona in a league ‘clasico’ against Madrid last year, when the Catalan club won 4-0 at the Bernabéu. Xavi could use Gavi in a more offensive position in midfield if Fati doesn't play.

Barcelona outscored opponents 24-7 in a 11-game winning run that ended with the home draw against Manchester United in the first leg of the Europa League playoffs. It then lost 2-1 in England last week to see its hopes of silverware reduced to the Copa and the league, where it leads Madrid by seven points.

“If you look at the last two matches, it looks like we are in the hospital,” Xavi said. “But we are still leading the league and we are in the semifinals of the Copa, so it’s been a good run. We can’t focus on the last two matches.”

Barcelona defeated Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup final in January. It lost by the same score in the first ‘clasico’ of the season in a league match at the Bernabéu.

“We don't want to win just to avenge the Super Cup loss,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We want to win because we are close to winning another title.”

MADRID'S ATTACK COMPLETE

Madrid has two absences in defense because of injuries — central defender David Alaba and left back Ferland Mendy — but Ancelotti will have all of his top players available in attack.

Rodrygo is the latest forward to recover from injury and is expected to play on Thursday in an attack led by Vinícius Junior and Karim Benzema.

Madrid missed a chance to move closer to Barcelona in the league after being held by 10-man Atlético at home on Saturday. It has a 5-2 lead over Liverpool in the round of 16 of the Champions League.

Madrid is looking to win its first Copa since 2014. Barcelona won it for the last time in 2021.

OTHER SEMIFINAL

The other Copa semifinal will be played between Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao, the most successful Copa team behind Barcelona.

Athletic is making its fourth straight semifinal appearance, while Osasuna is in the last four for the first time since reaching the final in 2005.

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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press