MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid and Barcelona are on the verge of meeting in the Copa del Rey final, they just need to avoid a hiccup in the return legs of their semifinals following first-leg victories that put both of them in control of their series.
Atletico Madrid's impressive season has come undone some since a 3-0 first-leg loss to Madrid, but it returns to the Vicente Calderon for Tuesday's return. Barcelona holds a slimmer advantage, of 2-0, going into Wednesday's return at Real Sociedad.
Here are five things to know about the Copa del Rey semifinals, return legs:
BALE-ING MADRID OUT
Gareth Bale marked his return from a two-game layoff with a sparkling performance in Saturday's 4-2 league win over Villarreal.
The Welshman's return was well-timed with Cristiano Ronaldo's league ban, though the Portugal forward can return for Tuesday's match. Jese Rodriguez also continued his good run, scoring for the fourth straight game against Villarreal.
Madrid is unbeaten in 23 matches overall, while Atletico has now lost two straight after having lost just once in its previous 36 games.
NOT BAD FOR A BACKUP
Madrid backup goalie Iker Casillas is doing his best to ensure he leads Spain at the World Cup despite a lack of playing time with his club.
It's been 772 minutes since Casillas last conceded, which was to Galatasaray in a Champions League victory in November.
Casillas has gone eight games in the domestic cup competition without allowing a goal in, while watching teammate Diego Lopez start in league play.
Lionel Messi has been mercurial of late, but the Argentina forward reminded how effective he can be just when you start to wonder about his motivation.
Messi scored two goals as Barcelona beat Sevilla 4-1 in the league on Sunday, including his first league goal from open play since September.
Of late, Barcelona has been leaning on Alexis Sanchez, who has scored five goals in his past five matches for the Catalans, but Neymar could return after the Brazil striker practiced with the team on Monday.
INJURIES MOUNT FOR ATLETICO
Atletico is in a tailspin for the first time all season, and injuries aren't helping its slide.
Following the ill-tempered first-leg defeat against Madrid, Atletico lost 2-0 at Almeria to allow Madrid and Barcelona to tie it atop the Spanish league after holding the outright lead for just one matchday.
Midfielder Tiago Cardoso hurt both his right knee and left wrist against Almeria, when goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and back Filipe Luis did not play owing to injury.
Atletico is also without leading scorer Diego Costa because of a ban, with David Villa's availability uncertain.
"The only way to get out of this is hard work," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said, "and that's how we'll do it."
DON'T BET SOCIEDAD
Real Sociedad's chances of overturning its first-leg loss to reach the cup final look slim.
The Basque club has only once come back from a first-leg deficit to win a Copa del Rey series, during the 1979-80 season.
Sociedad coach Jagoba Arrasate looked to put a positive spin on the team's performance following Sunday's scoreless league draw against Levante.
"It's an important match for the club and I'm confident that the opportunities we couldn't create against Levante we'll be able to produce (against Barcelona)," Arrasate said.
Sociedad last reached the cup final in 1988.
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