TEAM NEWS: Diego Lopez starts on return to Real Madrid in Clasico clash

Diego Lopez will make his first start since his January move from Sevilla as Real Madrid entertain Barcelona in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey semi-final on Wednesday.

With Iker Casillas sidelined with a hand injury, the 31-year-old goalkeeper, in his second spell at los Blancos, won the battle to begin in goal ahead of Antonio Adan.

In the absence of the injured Pepe and the suspended Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao, Jose Mourinho was forced to name a makeshift defence, with Michael Essien and Ricardo Carvalho stepping into the backline.

Angel Di Maria’s suspension also meant that Jose Callejon earned a place in the forward line alongside regular starters Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.

There were no such selection concerns for Barcelona assistant boss Jordi Roura, who had a fully fit squad at his disposal, but still elected to make five changes from his side’s 5-1 win over Osasuna.

Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Jordi Alba were among those returned to the starting lineup, with Javier Mascherano, David Villa and Thiago Alcantara taking their places on the bench after their excursions on the weekend.

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Lopez; Essien, Carvalho, Varane, Arbeloa; Khedira, Alonso; Callejon, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema.

Subs: Adan, Kaka, Marcelo, Albiol, Modric, Higuain, Morata

Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas; Iniesta, Messi, Pedro.

Subs: Valdes, Villa, Alexis, Song, Thiago, Mascherano, Adriano.

Benzema: Barcelona not favourites against Real Madrid

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema says Barcelona will not go into Wednesday’s Clasico as favourites.

Los Blancos meet their arch-rivals in the Copa del Rey, semi-final first leg at Santiago Bernabeu, and the France international believes Tito Vilanova’s side are not in pole position.

“Barcelona are not favourites,” Benzema told reporters.

“They are a great team, but we’re ready for this cup tie. Every year we have done better against Barca. It’s the best game in the world and the atmosphere will be incredible.”

The forward also believes that the key to victory will be decided by the mouth-watering array of attacking talent in either side.

He added: “The best thing to do is to try to win and score a lot of goals. but we have to think about the return leg.”

The meeting will be the fourth Clasico of the season, after the teams faced each other twice in the Super Cup before meeting in the league back in October, with that clash ending in a 2-2 draw.

Make the most of Barcelona v Real Madrid with the best enhanced prices on Messi and Ronaldo wincasts

William Hill are always enhancing wincast prices on the biggest games and this match is no different. The wincast bet allows you to back a match result and a specific player to score anytime, and there are no prizes for guessing which two players’ prices they have enhanced.

Lionel Messi’s wincast price has been enhanced from 7/5 (2.40) to 7/4 (2.75), allowing those who believe the Argentina international will lead his team to victory and ensure Barcelona have a lead to take into the second leg next month to profit.

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner has continued his fine goalscoring form from 2012 and he is normally a very short price to find the net, so some punters may see plenty of value in the 7/4 (2.75) on offer from William Hill.

For those who believe Madrid’s leaky defence will prove their downfall once again this price is sure to be popular.

For their second headline offer William Hill have enhanced Cristiano Ronaldo’s wincast price to 3/1 (4.0) and with the 27-year-old bidding to find the net in his seventh consecutive Clasico meeting, there are few who would back against the Portuguese finding the net at some point during the match.

With that in mind, and with Jose Mourinho taking the Copa del Rey very seriously due to the 15-point gap between the two sides in La Liga, a case could also be made for the 3/1 (4.0) about Ronaldo leading his side to victory being good value.

William Hill also have over 100 other markets for this game, including coupled first goalscorer markets where punters can back either Ronaldo or Messi to score the first goal at 5/4 (2.20).

Fans of the cards markets could also be interested in the 6/5 (2.20) about a red card being shown at any time, or the 11/10 (2.10) about either side gaining the most booking points over the course of the 90 minutes.

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El Clasico Betting Special: Back Ronaldo to continue his run against Barcelona

The front page of one of the daily sports newspapers in the Spanish capital put it rather aptly when it described Real Madrid against Barcelona as “A Duel of the Beasts”.

The “beasts” in question being Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who’s respective goalscoring feats show little sign of becoming any less absurd than they have been over the last few seasons.

Indeed in the month of January alone, Ronaldo and Messi have scored 10 and nine goals respectively and it is only natural that they should be the front runners in the goalscorer betting market for Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey Clasico semi final first leg at Santiago Bernabeu.

Both players are usually unbackable in the anytime scorer stakes, yet the quality of the opposition they are facing means the odds are higher than normal and within the realms of your average punter.

That is not to say the prices are huge. But the 8/15 (1.53) for Messi to score at any time will no doubt attract plenty of bets, especially considering that the relentless Argentina international has failed to score in only one of his last 11 matches for Barca as well as boasting a stunning 17 Clasico strikes.

Yet more attractive is the price of 4/6 (1.67) for Cristiano Ronaldo to score at any time which looks to actually offer some decent value when you remember he has netted in each of the last six Clasicos. It could be valuable as a single or a selection within a multiple to offer bigger returns.

The Madrid forward also happens to be in exceptional form at the moment, with 10 goals in his last six games, and with the new found adulation of the Bernabeu faithful, expect Ronaldo to once again deliver on the biggest stage of all.  

Clearly these two will take most of the money with the bookmakers, yet for some higher odds there are other decent options available.

Having found the back of the net in each of his last three games for the Catalans, he his hitting form and could prove a decent shout to score at any time or to open the scoring at 7/2 (4.50).

The price of 6/1 (7.00) for Sami Khedira to score at any time looks to hold exceptionally good value, given the German is playing in a more advanced role for Madrid, getting forward and scoring twice in his last four games at the Bernabeu.

Plus Khedira also opened the scoring between these two sides in their league meeting at the Camp Nou last season making the odds of 6/1 (7.00) look highly generous for him to net at anytime.

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Phil Kitromilides is a sports broadcaster working on TV in Madrid. You can also follow Phil on Twitter.

Wenger, Deschamps & Mancini are great but Mourinho is extraordinary, says Adebayor

Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor has hailed Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, describing the Portuguese as an “extraordinary” person.

The Togo international, who is current representing his country at the Africa Cup of Nations, worked under the 50-year-old during a half-season loan spell in the Spanish capital in 2011.

And Adebayor believes Mourinho is a class apart from the numerous managers he has worked alongside throughout his career.

“Mourinho is extraordinary. I worked with Wenger, Deschamps, Mancini, great managers, but a guy like him, I never knew that,” he told L’Equipe.

“It happens in the locker room, if you dress poorly, he takes your business to put in the office. He mocks you for days, then he may pay you to drink.

“And then you think it is now your best friend, but if you make a mistake, he’ll kill you!”

The former Monaco forward also revealed that the Setubal-born boss does not let his players rest on their laurels.
“Once I was elected man of the match and Ronaldo scored, I think. He called me and said ‘Manu, you were amazing, I’m happy for you’,” he said.

“I am full of confidence, I take the ball, I juggle when he wanted us to run. Boom! I feel like a child. He killed me in front of everybody.

“In the afternoon he called me ‘How are you?’ ‘Well, okay …’ ‘You did a great match but yesterday was yesterday and tomorrow will be another game.’ He learn me culture wins, a draw does not exist for him.”