BARCELONA, Spain (AP)—Barcelona holds the advantage heading into Tuesday’s return-leg semifinal against Real Madrid as the Spanish giants’ hostile four-match series closes with a spot in the Champions League final on the line.
Barcelona is the clear favorite after goals from Lionel Messi secured a 2-0 victory at Madrid, which is without suspended defenders Sergio Ramos and Pepe, along with coach Jose Mourinho, who is banned after being sent off in the first leg.
Madrid will have to abandon the defensive tactics used in the three prior meetings in just over two weeks, during which Madrid won the Copa del Rey final after a 1-1 league draw.
UEFA threw out those charges on Monday and will focus on the six original charges against the pair—five for Madrid, one for Barcelona—including two for Mourinho who made offensive comments to match officials and said UEFA actively helped Barcelona reach Champions League finals. Mourinho also hit out at counterpart Pep Guardiola while Madrid alleged Barcelona players feigned injuries to provoke bookings in the first leg.
“It’s sad,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said on Monday. “It would be nice to talk about football and not all these pitiful details.
“We try our best not to let all of this tension affect us. It’s almost impossible, but we try.”
Mourinho also criticized the second-leg referee Frank de Bleeckere, suggesting the official favored Barcelona in last year’s semifinal with Inter Milan, which the Italian club won on the way to the trophy. After Mourinho’s comments, UEFA on Sunday appointed de Bleeckere to handle the return match.
“We are lucky that tomorrow finishes everything. Tomorrow it ends,” Guardiola said. “We’ll try to forget it and try to focus on what we did in first game. We try to prepare (for) the second game, just focus on the second game, that’s all.”
Off-field issues aside, the return leg offers a big test for Mourinho, who said the series was finished following the first leg result.
The Portuguese coach must show his mettle and hope his team at least scores twice to force extra time. He certainly has enough talent with Cristiano Ronaldo rested in Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Zaragoza.
“We see football in another light. We like to control the ball, to dominate and control the game. We don’t know how else to play,” Xavi said. “A lot of teams play like Madrid has, looking to crowd the back, but Barcelona doesn’t have that philosophy and I don’t think our fans would enjoy it or forgive us for playing like that.”
Barcelona’s injury concerns lessened Monday after midfielder Andres Iniesta was included in the squad along with defender Eric Abidal, a surprise inclusion after having been sidelined since undergoing surgery to remove a liver tumor in March.
Defender Gabriel Milito is out with a leg injury from Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Real Sociedad, while Barcelona remains without a recognized left back with both Maxwell and Adriano out.
Barcelona’s first league loss in seven months stopped its unbeaten run at 31, leaving it one game shy of matching the longest streak in league history.
Madrid players acknowledged as much after losing to lowly Zaragoza, though they remained optimistic even though Mourinho will be banned from the touchline.
“We’ve been criticized a lot but these are ways of winning, ways of playing,” said assistant coach Aitor Karanka, who spoke at Monday’s news conference in place of Mourinho, who refused to speak despite being allowed to. “What matters now is to reach the final at Wembley.”
Mourinho can expect a hostile reception if he takes his place in the stands of the Camp Nou, where he spent four years as an assistant coach but has since become a hate figure following bitter Champions League matches with Chelsea and Inter prior to Madrid.
The winner heads to the May 28 final at Wembley and is expected to be joined by Manchester United after the English club won 2-0 at German opponent Schalke.