The Mallorcan’s finish was the only good thing about this performance from Real Madrid.
It is very rare to have tough times as Madrid supporters, and these are tough times. Thursday’s Copa quarterfinal match was a hard watch for madridistas, as the team were yet again extremely underwhelming and poor.
Does anyone remember last season when it felt like Zidane could put out any squad he wanted and they would consistently produce great football? It almost feels like a dream at this point, or a distant memory.
Bale, Ronaldo, and Benzema all sat out for this version of the Madrid derby. With their absence, some of the reserve and younger players got a chance to prove they are ready to answer Zidane’s call to play effectively in the first team if necessary- however, they didn’t prove anything.
Isco, Modric, Casemiro, Achraf, Nacho, and Navas rounded out an admittedly scary-deep bench. After a wasteful first half that saw Los Blancos hold on to the ball without doing anything with it and lacking forward attacking movements, nothing changed offensively until Modric and Isco came on for Ceballos and Llorente in the 60th minute.
There are a few reserve players that are extremely critical to the future of the organization. I’d put Dani Ceballos, Marcos Llorente, and Dani Carvajal in that group. All three were fairly awful in the match, if we’re being honest.
Ever since Carvajal has returned to action after being diagnosed with a heart infection back in September, he’s been a shell of the player he was for the last couple of seasons. He was sloppy with possessions, and misplaced several passes. To top it off, he was brutally nutmegged by Diego Rico early in the second half that nearly led to a Leganes goal.
Llorente was playing high up the pitch for most of his time in the match regardless of the fact he’s optimal when playing as a low/defensive midfielder. Nonetheless, he was poor and just avoided embarrassment when he nearly put in an own goal past Casilla. Ceballos was wasteful with his possession-based play yet again, holding the ball for extended periods and creating nothing from it.
Kovacic and Theo were both equally unimpressive, as Theo’s crosses were poor almost all night (except for the game-winning cross, mercifully) and Kovacic shockingly missed a clear opportunity in the first half. As we noted in the immediate reaction, a disturbing trend of not adapting to matches in real-time is becoming extremely problematic.
For the last couple of years, it seems like there’s been real hope when los Blancos come out of the dressing room for the second half after a flat or poor first half. Tactics would be changed, personnel would be adjusted, or Cristiano would pull a goal out of a hat to ensure a positive result. Perhaps this is on Zidane, and perhaps it is on the players. More likely, it’s an unpleasant cocktail of both.
I wish I could tell you that the worst thing that happened was not having a shot in the first half, or that this win is just our second in the last six games. But Jesus Vallejo’s early exit with an apparent hamstring injury was probably the worst thing for an already injury-depleted back line. Ramos’ calf is still healing, and Vallejo is having an injury-riddled nightmare of a season.
In an unbelievable state of affairs for back-to-back defending European champions, Madrid now find themselves pushing for Champions League qualification. The Catalans are an unthinkable 19 points ahead, and this is a deficit bad enough to make Copa del Rey success much more important than usual.
The Estadio Municipal de Butarque is less than 10 miles south of the Santiago Bernabeu, but this Real Madrid team are lightyears away from the side they were just seven months ago.