Real Madrid and Barcelona will meet three times. They face each other over two legs in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey - SportsNight

The Classics are always exhausting and emotionally-charged affairs, but even more so when two trophies are on the line. Despite beating Barca Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa final last month, there is still a feeling that Xavi Hernandez's side will have to prove themselves against a Madrid side that won La Liga and the Champions League last season. Knocking them out of the cup over two legs route to the final will do that. Meanwhile, Barca's shock defeat to Almeria gave Madrid a lifeline in La Liga. Having moved to within seven points of the leaders, Carlo Ancelotti's side will relish the prospect of closing the gap further. A Clásico win could cut the gap to four heading into the final leg of the campaign and will really test Barca's mental strength and endurance. If three games in one month in 2023 seems wild, you don't have to look too far back for that. The last time these eternal rivals had so many epic encounters in such quick succession. In 2011, four meetings in 18 days pushed the rivalry between Madrid and Barca to the brink. It brought out the worst from managers Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, as Madrid were crowned Copa del Rey champions and Barca won the LaLiga and Champions League double. 

The fall in each fixture was more spectacular than the last. Guardiola described Mourinho as while the Portuguese manager theorized about referees and UEFA favoring Barca. 

There were seven goals, five red cards and several broken friendships between the Spain internationals who won the World Cup together nine months ago. The explosive scenes witnessed in 2011 are unlikely to be matched. Coaches and players involved in those games nearly 12 years ago admitted both teams were guilty of going too far at times. Fernandez, refereeing the first of their four games: "The referee of these kinds of matches has a lot of experience. One of the qualities of managing a match like this is the mental aspect. If you're not ready for that, face a match of tremendous tension or competition, you don't even deserve to be in the Primera Division. "Back then, I was lucky enough to referee two Clasicos. The relationship between coaches and players was not very good. You could feel the tension on the pitch. We all knew that one club was on track to win La Liga and the competition. The other, Madrid, with their style of football, tried to stop it. There was tremendous tension on the pitch. Rosell, Barça president 2010-2014: "There was a lot of tension in the media during that period. The team was playing well and we were all confident that we would do well in those four games against Madrid.

"There was no fear of playing so many times at Madrid  not at all. Having Lionel Messi made everything so much easier. 

With him we had a fantastic team and we had key players all over the pitch. Most of them won the World Cup with Spain in 2010. Marcelo, Madrid defender 2007-2022: "There was a league game and I thought we were playing in the Champions League. it was confusing. Honestly, it was really strange. I don't think it's good for football because everyone has been waiting all year to see a match between Madrid and Barca, and that [The magic] is lost just for a moment." Mourinho is not going to play at Barca's own game. Instead, as he did with his Inter Milan side in 2010 when Barcelona were knocked out of the Champions League, he went for practicality over aesthetics, choosing centre-back Pepe as a defensive midfielder to try and undo Barca. Barca analyst Roura under Guardiola: "We are not surprised that Pepe was seen as a midfielder by Madrid coach Mourinho." It didn't work. Madrid couldn't get the three points they needed. In the second half, when Albiol was sent off, Messi converted the penalty. Cristiano Ronaldo saved the game for Madrid, scoring a penalty to level the match, which saw Fernandez receive seven yellow cards in addition to Albiol's red.

At fulltime, Mourinho lamented that he was "tired of playing against Barca with a man down all the time. It's an impossible task".

Adriano, Barca defender 2010-2016: "We had problems with the referees. Pep told us we had to control our heads and know what to do. He told us to forget the referee and play. [Madrid] always complained that a player was sent off with the kicks they gave us." Despite missing injured duo Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, Xavi rested other key players in Sunday's 1-0 loss to Almeria. Adding to Barca's jitters ahead of the Clasico, top scorer Robert Lewandowski picked up a hamstring strain and Anzu Fati is set to return, but he is set to be ruled out. In what Xavi described as his "worst performance of the season" at Almeria, Barcelona suffered a second straight defeat after being knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United at Old Trafford. A third defeat at the Santiago Bernabéu would put the team on the upswing, with their seven-point La Liga lead tight but unassailable. Xavi said that even if his team won La Liga but not the Copa del Rey, it would still be considered a victory. Good season, Spanish Super Cup already in the bag. However, losing this double-header against their arch-rivals will only add momentum to Xavi's rivals after spending big last summer, and allow further doubts about the project to rise. Barcelona brought in a number of players including striker Robert Lewandowski, Kounde and Rafinha from Bayern Munich.

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