Real Madrid started their Copa del Rey run by facing off against last year's nemesis, CD Alcoyano from 2da Division B (the Spanish 3rd division). Last year, the Valencian side had defeated Los Blancos in a heroic game that went into extra time. This time around, Real would deny Alcoyano another surprise victory, winning 3-1 in a lackluster performance, with Alcoyano being the better side during the first half.
Carlo Ancelotti chose to rotate some key players for this game, with Courtois, Mendy, Modrić, and Benzema staying in Madrid. The starting XI featured a complete rotation other than the defensive triangle of Alaba, Militão, and Casemiro. Camavinga played as the left central midfielder, Valverde on the right, while Hazard, Mariano, and Rodrygo started as the front three.
Alcoyano dominated in the first half. They pressed aggressively in a compact 4-4-2 shape with man-marking assignments, making it very difficult for Real to play from the back. Real were forced to play it long most of the time, but Alcoyano also dominated in the air, winning 15 aerial duels in the first half compared to Real's 6. They were also really good at picking up the second balls from these aerial duels. Only the occasional ball-carrying run from Camavinga could break through the Alcoyano pressing.
Meanwhile, Alcoyano knew well what to do in possession. They sent it long, used their aerial dominance to get the ball in Real Madrid's half, and then tried to make quick combinations on the wing to make space for a cross. This forced clearances from Militão as well as Lunin interventions. In the end, however, Real would score against the game's flow in the 40th minute, with a corner headed by none other than Militão, the only one who seemed able to beat Alcoyano players in the air consistently.
The second half started more gently for Real Madrid. Alcoyano did not press as aggressively and was less of a threat to Lunin's goal. However, Real still struggled to break down their deeper block, an issue which Los Blancos have struggled with for several seasons already. After some substitutions to refresh legs, Alcoyano started attacking more quickly again, which ultimately led to their 66th-minute goal. Attacker Daniel Vega combined well with striker El Ghezouani, slipping past Real's defense, cutting inside to take out both Casemiro and Militão, and curling the ball past Lunin with an outstanding left-footed finish.
The stage seemed set for another tragic Copa del Rey night for Real, but luck would be on their side this time. Asensio—who replaced an injured Mariano in the 48th minute—managed to score in the 76th minute after his shot from outside the box was deflected by Alcoyano's Rául González into the net. In the 78th minute, Isco would come in for Camavinga, and right as he came in, a series of bounces between Alcoyano defenders would set him up perfectly to score against José Juan. The Alcoyano keeper literally threw himself at Isco, but the ball bounced again between both players and went into the net.
Not the most glamorous way to win a game, but at least the job’s done. Stay tuned for the upcoming player ratings and post-game podcast!