The Copa del Rey final at the Mestalla on Wednesday will provide the platform on which some players will be hoping to cement a future with their clubs
By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
It is a rare season indeed in which Real Madrid and Barcelona’s biggest tussle comes in the Copa del Rey rather than a league decider or a Champions League face-off. But such have been the varying difficulties faced by the two giants this term, Wednesday’s cup final at the Mestalla will carry a huge weight come the summer.
Of course, Madrid still have interests in Europe but will have to overcome continental kings Bayern Munich to progress, while Atletico Madrid have an advantage of more than three points over each of the Clasico rivals in La Liga.
It all means that the opportunities for players to show their worth to their side are running out fast, and both Madrid and Barca have a number of first-team squad members whose futures remain somewhat unknown right now.
Below, Goal assesses six of the men for whom Wednesday’s clash could be a make-or-break moment in their Clasico careers.
The Portuguese full-back very nearly left the Santiago Bernabeu last summer when he was on the verge of a move to Manchester United, but one year on it seems his time in Madrid is up for good.
Having played barely a handful of games all season, the €30 million signing will this summer be looking elsewhere for his opportunity to regain the reputation he gained at Benfica. With Marcelo having nailed down the first-choice left-back spot, it would take a huge performance from Coentrao at the Mestalla to make the club and the player alter their plans.
At 26, he does at least have plenty more football in him.
He saw off the challenge of Mesut Ozil, won the heart of Carlo Ancelotti and was Madrid’s best player in the recent Liga defeat to Barcelona, but still Angel di Maria has a major point to prove if he is to be assured of a spot in the Blancos squad for 2014-15.
While his Italian coach has been bouyed by his upturn in performances since Christmas, the club’s board are less than happy with the Argentine’s fluctuating fortunes over the past couple of years. With the movers and shakers at the Bernabeu looking to boost their stocks in midfield this summer, Di Maria’s future could hang on exactly how much the capital outfit need to cover the cost of whoever comes in.
As such, another big performance against Barca will put the 26-year-old on more stable territory when it comes to the club’s planning ahead of next term, but a lacklustre display could spell the end of his four-year stay in Madrid.
On the face of it, Cesc Fabregas should be about as well-placed as anyone when it comes to being kept on at Barcelona this summer. He has played more minutes than any other player since Tata Martino took over, and the departure of Thiago Alcantara and age of Xavi Hernandez should also play into his hands.
But there’s more to the former Arsenal man’s position at the club than immediately meets the eye, with his inability to find a niche in the first team since arriving from London in 2011 leaving some fans questioning his true quality.
Fabregas should still be wearing Blaugrana next season, but a no-show performance at the Mestalla might lead to more of the supporter base pushing for radical change ahead of Barca’s ban-permitting summer transfer activity.
Javier Mascherano might have arrived at the Camp Nou as an alternative to Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta in the centre of midfield, but over time he has become one of Barcelona’s most vital centre-backs. Under Pep Guardiola’s system of using adaptable players all over the pitch, the Argentine was a key component as Barca attempted to pass their way through all-comers.
But the 29-year-old has looked more like a midfielder than ever before over recent times, with his defensive capabilities being shown up as teams look to exploit the Blaugrana‘s deficiencies at the back. So long as they can delay their transfer ban long enough to get some work done in the transfer window, at least one centre-back addition is almost guaranteed.
And Mascherano’s usefulness will become questionable if that is the case. Should a new coach be given the reins in Catalunya, the ex-Liverpool man may find himself overlooked as a first choice, and a poor display in Wednesday’s final might persuade the power-brokers that Mascherano is not only short of first-team quality but is also no longer capable of Barca-like performances.
For many, Alvaro Morata used to symbolise the future of Real Madrid. His positive performances in 2012-13, including a superb display in the home Clasico win last March, had suggested a platform had been built for him to become a first-team star for some time to come.
But his 2013-14 has not gone entirely to plan. The Spaniard has started only eight games all season, scoring seven times in a total of 28 appearances, with Karim Benzema’s resurgence blocking his path to more regular football. While the Frenchman might not necessarily remain as hot next term, the Madrid board are hoping to bring in more striking stocks this summer, further reducing Morata’s prospects in the first-team squad.
The 21-year-old is understood to be frustrated at the lack of opportunities this season, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s assertion that the two cannot play effectively together resulting in reduced game time, and he is not short of admirers should he decide that his career is more likely to flourish away from the Bernabeu. Wednesday night is a big moment in his young career.
If one thing is currently clear about Barcelona’s goalkeeping plans amidst the uncertainty of Fifa’s transfer ban, it is that Jose Manuel Pinto is not in the club’s plans.
The 38-year-old was thrust into the spotlight by Victor Valdes’ season-ending injury and has since been considered by outsiders as the most likely No.1 at Camp Nou come the beginning of next season in light of the potential suspension on incoming transfers.
However, the club are confident that transfer activity will be permitted this summer by either a lifting or postponement of their punishment, meaning the completion of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s transfer from Borussia Monchengladbach. Simply put, Pinto is not in Barca’s considerations for the new campaign with even a big showing in the Copa del Rey final unlikely to make the club rethink.
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