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Next Real Madrid-FC Barcelona battle set for today

Feb 26, 2013, 11:13 AM EST

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FC Barcelona has dashed away from Real Madrid for the La Liga crown in a way that few could possibly see coming. A full 16 points separate the Spanish giants.

If you still want to bet that Jose Mourinho’s men can close such a yawning gap, please contact me at once. I’ll give you great odds.

The La Liga race is over – and has been for some time.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid is in less-than-favorable position in its titanic Champions League clash with Manchester United, fueling even more speculation that the sand has run out on Mourinho’s hourglass at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

Barcelona also finds the Champions League ground beneath their fleet feet surprisingly unstable, in need of a big performance now to get past AC Milan.

All of this is a set-up to say: today’s Barcelona-Real Madrid match was always important – but it has taken on added significance due to recent developments.

Today’s contest is for a place in the Copa Del Rey final. The competition certainly means something to Barcelona, but it now means even more to the men from Real. If Mourinho’s men fall out of the King’s Cup, they may be looking at a 2012-13 season with zero trophies.

Interesting subplot here is Leo Messi, who is just two goals away from establishing the scoring record in the two clubs’ storied rivalry. (One that perhaps defines “storied,” considering the political history and general bitterness attached.) Messi, today or soon, will pass legendary figure Alfredo di Stefano as the leading scorer in El Clasico history.

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