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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s Copa win at Elche

It went to extra time and produced plenty of drama. 

Elche v Real Madrid - Copa Del Rey Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

After 90 minutes of scarce action, Elche vs Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey erupted into life in extra time. After Marcelo was sent off, a deflected Gonzalo Verdú shot put Elche ahead, only for substitutes Isco and Eden Hazard to turn it around and give Los Blancos the 2-1 lead, which they held on to thanks to a late disallowed Fidel goal. There’s so much to talk about and we go through the main talking pre-match and post-match questions here.

Three answers

1. Would it be Kroos or Camavinga occupying the Casemiro role?

Even when the line-up was announced and even assuming Ancelotti would stick with the 4-3-3, we still didn’t know exactly how the formation would look - at least in midfield, where Casemiro and Luka Modrić were enjoying a rest, while Toni Kroos was joined by Eduardo Camavinga and Fede Valverde. It was easy to predict that Valverde would take the Modrić role on the right, but who out of Kroos or Camavinga would be the holding midfielder? Well, Ancelotti opted for Camavinga in the middle, maintaining Kroos in his usual position on the left. Might it have been better the other way round, with Kroos deputising for Casemiro and then Camavinga allowed to roam the left alongside Marcelo and Vinícius? Perhaps, but we never got to see it and both the Uruguayan and the Frenchman were taken off in the 70th minute in like-for-like subs for Modrić and Casemiro.

2. Without “the midfielders we have”, would Real Madrid press more?

Real Madrid haven’t pressed much at all in recent months and Ancelotti has always defended this with lines like “pressing high up is tougher for us because of the midfielders we have”. That does make sense and the approach has worked brilliantly so far. But, with the 23-year-old Tasmanian Devil that is Valverde and with the 19-year-old and ultra quick Camavinga, surely this Real Madrid would be able to press more? Well, not really. Especially in the first half, Los Blancos tended to sit off and wait on the halfway line for Elche to bring the ball out, while it wasn’t much better in the second half. Then, once Modrić and Casemiro were on for the final 20 minutes and for extra time, any chance of exploiting Valverde and Camavinga’s energy was gone.

3. How would Jović do in ‘Elche take two’?

When Real Madrid visited Elche in LaLiga Santander at the end of October, one of the questions I asked in that ‘Three answers and three questions’ piece was: is this the end for Jović’s Real Madrid career? That’s because Karim Benzema was missing for that league game, yet it was Mariano who got the nod ahead of the Serbian and he did very well. This time, in ‘Elche take two’, Jović finally got to occupy the No.9 role, like he surely expected to that Halloween weekend. So, how was he? Well, he displayed the same excellent hold-up play that he showed when given a brief run in December, but still lacks the ruthlessness in the box he had in Frankfurt and that Real Madrid bought him for. It reached the point where Ancelotti preferred to take Jović off and finish the match was Isco leading the line as a false nine. It worked, thanks to a large slice of luck, as Isco turned in the equaliser in extra time, but that was another damning indictment of Jović’s ineffectiveness.

Three questions

1. What happened at the end with the disallowed Elche goal?

Extra time was on drugs, from the first minute to the last. Most of the big moments of this game came in that extra half hour, from the three goals to the two red cards and the disallowed Elche equaliser in the 120th minute. So, what actually happened there? Some are arguing that it was ruled out for offside, but what Jorge Figueroa Vázquez blew for in the moment was a foul by Gonzalo Verdú on Lucas Vázquez, which was more dubious. Some will think it was the right call, while others - like Pere Milla, who was sent off for his protests - will think it’s a scandal. Really, it just wasn’t a good game overall from Figueroa Vázquez and not just because of that disallowed goal, with the Marcelo red card controversial too and with one bizarre foul called on Kroos. This referee’s Copa del Rey is surely over too.

2. Was Marcelo Real Madrid’s best player in attack?

As expected, Marcelo was a revolving door in defence, one that Elche turned to time and time again. It was through Marcelo that Elche created the very early chance that Guido Carrillo unbelievably wasted off the crossbar. But, when the Brazilian attacked he caused Elche all kinds of problems. There were neat through balls for Vinícius. There was a perfect cross that Jović couldn’t turn in. There was a shot that fizzed just past the post. And, of course, there was the glorious nutmeg on Josan. Add all that up and combine it with the little that Real Madrid’s forwards did and you wonder: was Marcelo actually Real Madrid’s greatest attacking threat on the night? Even though he was sent off before all the goals, he probably was.

3. How different will Sunday’s rematch be?

These two teams now meet again on Sunday afternoon, this time in LaLiga Santander and this time at the Bernabéu. How different will that game be? Well, for a start, the personnel of both teams will be different. We can expect around five changes to Elche’s starting XI and perhaps seven in Real Madrid’s as Thibaut Courtois, Dani Carvajal, Ferland Mendy, Éder Militão, Luka Modrić, Casemiro and Karim Benzema come back into the fold. We can also expect Elche to sit deeper at the Bernabéu than they did in this cup game, where they were more ambitious than many probably expected them to be. Whether that’s helpful or not for Real Madrid remains to be seen.