One year on from their Copa del Rey exit at the hands of Alcoyano, Real Madrid went back to the Estadio El Collao and this time earned a 3-1 victory, booking their place in the last 16 of the tournament. Below comes a discussion of the most interesting aspects of the performance and their chances of winning the whole thing.
1. How would Lunin cope with the ghosts of Alcoy?
We already learned one name of the starting line-up the day before the game – and no, not because Real Madrid keep releasing their starting XIs earlier and earlier... In the pre-match press conference, Ancelotti revealed that Andriy Lunin would be starting. A quirk of fate and the fixture list meant this was just his second Real Madrid appearance and that it was coming at the same place where he made his first, and where Real Madrid lost to Alcoyano 2-1 after extra time at the same stage of last season’s Copa del Rey. So, how would he do? How would he cope with the ghosts of Alcoy, shaking off the terrible memory that he hadn’t had the chance to rectify until now? Well, he did quite well. The Ukrainian had a fairly busy but very confident first half, although in the second half Alcoyano once again smudged his clean sheet. It’s nit-picking to truly criticise Lunin for Vega’s goal, but he did attempt to save it with the wrong arm. It’d be nice if he gets the start in the next round too, instead of having to wait another year for his next outing.
2. Is Ancelotti the man to finally win Real Madrid another Copa del Rey?
Real Madrid’s relationship with the Copa del Rey is an odd one. While they have the most Champions League and LaLiga Santander titles by far, they have just the third-most Spanish cups with 19, behind Barcelona’s 31 and Athletic’s 23. Los Blancos haven’t won it since Carlo Ancelotti coached them to the 2013/14 Copa del Rey title, the one with the Bale vs Bartra goal. Since then, Real Madrid have been knocked out – or disqualified – of the Copa del Rey in the last 16, last 32, quarters, quarters, semis, quarters and last 32. This year, they’ve at least overcome the last 32 hurdle of Alcoyano and it seems Ancelotti is taking this tournament seriously, given the relative strength of tonight’s starting line-up. Let’s see how long this year’s Copa del Rey journey lasts. It could be fun.
3. Would it matter than Ancelotti hadn’t watched last year’s elimination?
As much as Ancelotti is a coach who cares about cup competitions and who put out a strong starting XI, he did admit in the pre-match press conference that he hadn’t watched last season’s elimination at the hands of Alcoyano. That seemed odd. Even if some of those involved that night have since moved on, Alcoyano’s coach and many of their players are the same and the stadium and pitch would be the same too. When Militão scored the opener in the first half before a second half Alcoyano equaliser, the same as what happened last year, you wondered if it might have been useful to have watched last year’s match to better understand the Alcoyano attitude. In the end it didn’t matter, as the third division side suffered a couple of mishaps in defence, but it still seems odd that the coach didn’t - or claimed he didn’t - watch last year’s game to have a better feel for this year’s one.
1. Will we see Hazard, Asensio and Rodrygo together again?
The injury to Mariano early in the second half meant we had the strange circumstance of Real Madrid fielding a front three of Eden Hazard down the middle, Marco Asensio on the right of attack and Rodrygo on the left. Given that these are the three players usually competing for minutes in the right wing spot, it was strange to see them all coincide together. They had only played all together at the same time for 28 minutes before today – two minutes in the Chelsea first leg last season and 13 minutes in the Chelsea second leg, plus six minutes in the second half of the 2-0 win over Osasuna last season and seven minutes in the win over Real Betis earlier this season. In this game, they coincided for longer that all of that, playing 30 minutes. The trio combined for the second goal just before the Belgian went off, as Rodrygo masterfully took down Militão’s ambitious whole-pitch ball and then laid it off for Hazard to tee up Asensio for the – albeit deflected – go-ahead strike.
2. Did David Alaba know this wasn’t a LaLiga Santander game?
David Alaba played this game as if it was a World Cup final. From minute one to 90, the Austrian centre-back gave 100 percent, putting his body on the line and laying all his quality out on the pitch. Did he know that this was a Copa del Rey round of 32 game? It is his first year in Spain, after all. Or, maybe it’s just that Alaba gives his all whether it’s a cup game, a league game, a European game or a training session. He is the ultimate professional.
3. What can we expect from Dani Ceballos over the second half of this season?
With Real Madrid 3-1 up on the scoreboard and looking towards the last 16, Ancelotti was able to introduce Dani Ceballos in the 86th minute. Given his loan at Arsenal and his injury, this was the midfielder’s first Real Madrid appearance since the end of the 2018/19 season, a whole 983 days ago. With the way Ancelotti has been talking in recent weeks, it doesn’t seem that Ceballos will depart in the winter market, so what role can we expect him to play over the second half of this season? How many minutes will he actually get in midfield? Will the Copa del Rey be the final physiotherapy sessions of his recovery? We have no idea right now, but will surely find out soon.