During an International Break devoid of club football, I began to browse YouTube for inspiration. I started watching full matches from past seasons, but ultimately enjoyed one match more than any other. The 2014 Copa del Rey Final, like many matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid, was an incredible match that helped shape the remainder of the season for both teams involved. The final went back and forth until finally Real Madrid’s newest Galactico, Gareth Bale scored an astonishing goal to earn Madrid their 19th Spanish Cup trophy.
Like any match between these two teams, the build-up for this match was fiery and intense. However, this particular match meant even more with the Copa del Rey trophy on the line.
Coming into the match Real Madrid remained alive in all competitions. Los Blancos had just survived a furious Borussia Dortmund comeback to advance to the Champions League Semi-Finals against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, and sat just 3 points back from La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile Barcelona was in the midst of one the worst weeks in their history. Having been knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid and also trailing Atletico Madrid for the league title, Tata Martino’s men faced a potential trophyless season.
Just weeks earlier Barcelona had defeated Madrid at the Bernabéu 4-3 through a few dubious penalty calls, and naturally Carlo Ancelotti’s man were hungry for revenge. Unfortunately for both teams, neither were at 100%, as big names including Cristiano Ronaldo, Jese Rodriguez, Sami Khedira, Marcelo, Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, and Carles Puyol were all absent from their respective teams.
The Mestalla atmosphere was tense as both sets of fans awaited for the match to begin. Could Barcelona salvage their season? Would Gareth Bale prove worthy of his expensive price tag? Would Barcelona’s patchwork Center-back partnership hold up against Madrid’s deadly frontline? Could Carlo Ancelotti win his first trophy in charge of Los Blancos? The world would soon find out.
Tata Martino puzzlingly decided to start Cesc Fabregas over both Alexis Sanchez and Pedro as the striker in a tactically fluid formation. Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano formed the central defensive pairing in the place of their injured teammates while the Veteran Jose Manuel Pinto started between the sticks for the Blaugrana.
In order to compensate for the loss of their talisman, Madrid moved Bale over to the left wing with Di Maria taking up the spot on the right. Isco filled the Argentine’s midfield role while Coentrao replaced Marcelo.
It took less than 5 minutes for the Madrid attacking trident to carve out its first chance. A wonderful through ball by Isco gave a sprinting Gareth Bale a chance to shoot from a tight angle, but the shot went just wide of the far post. Madrid continued the early pressure, and looked far more dangerous than their competitors. Finally, a ripping counter-attack 10 minutes into the match ended with a Di Maria goal. The crowd roared as the winger placed his shot in between Jordi Alba’s legs and just beyond the hands of Pinto.
A little over 10 minutes later, Barcelona found their first chance of the match. A Dani Alves cross found the head of Jordi Alba, however, the Spaniard had neither the power nor the placement to beat Casillas for the equalizer. Barcelona persisted, and after a hectic sequence in the box, the ball eventually fell to Messi right outside the box for a quick snapshot that flew a few feet wide of the post right before halftime.
Shortly after halftime Gareth Bale created another chance for Real Madrid. After a hard tackle on Cesc Fabregas, Dani Carvajal did well to get the ball to Bale on the wing. The Welshman dribbled past Busquets before putting a rather poor attempt on goal into the side netting of Pinto’s goal. It was a wasted chance to go 2 goals clear of their arch-rivals, as pressure to live up to his price tag continued to mount on the young winger’s shoulders.
Bale was given another chance just minutes after. Although a much tougher shot, Bale’s volley went just over the goal. Madrid sections of the stadium began to whistle as they grew impatient with the newest Galáctico’s wastefulness. Shortly after, Karim Benzema made his presence in the match known when he forced Pinto into a save at his near post.
Madrid were firmly in control of the match, but their wastefulness would prove costly. After Gareth Bale had a goal ruled out, Barcelona quickly won a corner in the other half. The resulting corner kick finally gave Barcelona the equalizer they needed. An unmarked Marc Bartra headed a perfectly placed shot past Iker Casillas as Cules everywhere went wild.
Both teams began searching for the winner, but Madrid looked more likely to do so. Another counter attack ended in another Gareth Bale shot coming to nothing, while Modric struck the post from long range after picking Sergio Busquets’ pocket. The match started to look like it was headed for an unpredictable Extra Time period, but then a moment of brilliance occurred.
Isco and Fabio Coentrao combined deep in their own half before the latter was able to advance into enough space to get the ball to an accelerating Gareth Bale. Bale’s first touch knocked the ball forward and led to one of his trademark sprints down the wing. Marc Bartra tried to push the Welshman out of bounds, but it was futile. The Spanish defender was left in the dust, and could only watch helplessly as Bale threaded the winner through the legs of the keeper.
The drama, however, was not yet over, as Barcelona would have more chance to level the match. In the 89th minute Xavi played Neymar through on goal in what should've been a certain goal. Somehow, someway, the shot hit the post and bounced to Iker Casillas, and Madrid was able to hang on and raise the famous Spanish trophy.
The immediate aftermath was the partial validation of world-record signing Gareth Bale. Bale’s short time in the Spanish Capital finally had that “wow” moment that it needed.
As a team however, Real Madrid slumped to the finish line in La Liga, only earning 8 points from their next 5 matches. This slump handed Atletico Madrid the league title, breaking up the Spanish duopoly that had formed between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Even more frustrating for Madrid was the fact that like their crosstown rivals, Atletico had also only taken 8 points from its last 5 matches. La Liga and a potential treble were there for there for the taking, but Los Blancos blew their chance through a disappointing league finish. Weeks later Real Madrid would complete their double by thrillingly winning La Décima. The end of the season, which ended in immense happiness, can also be looked back upon with slight disappointment.
For Barcelona, this match was the final nail in their coffin. The Catalans finished their league campaign as poorly as the other two giants, and even failed to pry La Liga away from Atletico despite having the final match day against Los Colchoneros at the Camp Nou. Their season ended in a trophy less disaster that caused the departure of many prominent figures within the club. Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol, Tata Martino, and Victor Valdes all departed in the following Summer.
The 2014 El Clasico Copa del Rey final helped shape the outlooks of the two team’s seasons. Madrid won the double through 2 thrilling finals while Barcelona ended the season without any silverware at all. A moment of brilliance from Gareth Bale ultimately sealed each’s fate, and won a match that Madridistas and Marc Bartra will never forget.