MADRID, Feb 24 (Reuters) - With crucial Champions League games looming, Barcelona and Real Madrid could have done without the distraction of playing each other twice in five days, starting with a King’s Cup semi-final second leg on Tuesday (2000 GMT).
The two “Clasicos” - the second a La Liga clash at the Bernabeu on Saturday - will provide rich entertainment for fans but they are relatively insignificant compared to Barca’s game at home to AC Milan on March 12 and Real’s match at Manchester United a week earlier.
The King’s Cup is never a priority for Spain’s dominant pair as long as they are still alive in Europe’s elite club competition and the domestic league, and Real have all but given up on a second consecutive La Liga title after slipping 16 points behind leaders Barca with 13 games left.
Barca are still reeling after going down 2-0 to Milan at the San Siro in Wednesday’s last-16 first leg, though they picked themselves up and fought back from a goal down for a 2-1 La Liga win at home to Sevilla on Saturday.
Real, held to a 1-1 draw by United at the Bernabeu On Feb. 13, also came from a goal down to win on Saturday, beating bottom side Deportivo La Coruna 2-1 at the Riazor with Cristiano Ronaldo coming off the bench to set up Gonzalo Higuain for the winner.
Assistant Barca coach Jordi Roura, standing in for Tito Vilanova who is recovering from throat surgery, praised his players for putting Wednesday’s shock reverse behind them.
“You can lose a match but the really important thing is the reaction,” he told a news conference after the Sevilla game.
“It was a really tough game and they scored against us while we had the match more under control,” he added.
“But once again the team rose to the occasion and showed the pride needed to secure a very important victory for the league campaign. Their reaction was splendid.”
Cup holders Barca have a slight advantage ahead of Real’s visit to the Nou Camp, which will be the 224th meeting between the arch rivals in all competitions, after they secured a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in last month’s first leg.
Cesc Fabregas fired Barca ahead five minutes after halftime and Raphael Varane nodded in an equaliser for Real nine minutes from the end.
Real beat Barca 1-0 to win the Cup in 2011 and Barca eliminated them in the last eight last term.
The successful side after Tuesday’s showdown will meet Atletico Madrid or Sevilla in May’s final.
The pair meet at Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on Wednesday (2100) with Atletico holding a 2-1 advantage from the first leg at the Calderon.
Barca struggled to create scoring chances against both Milan and Sevilla, leading some to question their slavish adherence to a possession-based playing style and ask whether they had an effective “Plan B” when faced with ultra-defensive sides.
They have also found it tough to keep a clean sheet in recent outings and Roura said it was something they needed to improve if they were to keep alive their hopes of a treble of trophies this term.
“It’s true that we are having the odd problem in that sense and it’s something to improve on, above all in our positioning in defence,” Roura said.
“Obviously it concerns us and we want to improve that and other things,” he added.
Barca’s World Player of the Year Lionel Messi can equal the record goal tally for “Clasicos” of 18 held by former Real great Alfredo Di Stefano with a goal on Tuesday. (Editing by Clare Fallon)