Real Madrid commenced their 2022/23 Copa del Rey campaign on Tuesday night, playing away at Cacereño in Extremadura. It was a really difficult game against the fourth-tier side, who gave a very good account of themselves, but a lovely Rodrygo goal was enough for Real Madrid to win 1-0. As is always the case in the Copa del Rey round of 32, when lesser-used players get some game time, there were many talking points and here we discuss three questions we had pre-match and three new questions we have post-match.
1. Would Ancelotti stick with his open training line-up?
This game took place just a day after Real Madrid held their annual open training session for the fans. At that Monday session at Valdebebas, Carlo Ancelotti organised a training game and the line-up was: Lunin; Lucas Vázquez, Éder Militão, Nacho, Odriozola; Camavinga, Tchouaméni, Ceballos; Asensio, Rodrygo, Hazard. So, would it be the same for the actual game, or was he keeping his cards closer to his chest? In typical Carlo fashion, the Italian had nothing to hide and started that exact same 11 here. That was maybe a shame for the six youth teamers included in the squad, as only Álvaro Rodríguez and Sergio Arribas got minutes – and not many minutes at that – but Ancelotti knows more than most what he’s doing in the Copa del Rey, keeping in mind he is the most recent Real Madrid coach to win it, from back in 2014.
There's a training game going on and this could be tomorrow's XI:— Nils Kern (@nilskern17) January 2, 2023
Lunin - Vázquez, Militão, Nacho, Odriozola - Camavinga, Tchouaméni, Ceballos - Asensio, Rodrygo, Hazard. pic.twitter.com/SYZYffTzBs
2. Could Hazard capitalise on this opportunity?
Even without seeing the training game line-up, we already knew Eden Hazard would start this game, as Ancelotti said so in his post-game press conference after Real Valladolid. So, would the Belgium manage to capitalise on his umpteenth chance? No, not even close. Many Real Madrid starters were below their usual levels today, for a variety of different reasons, but Eden Hazard was arguably the worst performer on the entire pitch on the night, which is quite something considering he literally earns about as much per week as Cacereño’s entire annual budget.
3. How do you go from a World Cup final to this?
We’re three questions in, so it’s probably time to mention the pitch of the Estadio Príncipe Felipe. It was terrible. But, of course it was. This is a team that plays in Spanish football’s fourth division, but considering how many different groups there are in the third and fourth tiers of Spain’s footballing pyramid, Cacereño rank somewhere between the 90th and 110th biggest club in the country. It’s a tiny club with not much money and a poorly maintained pitch. At this stage of the Copa del Rey, it’s absolutely normal and something all LaLiga Santander sides have to deal with, but you do wonder what two Real Madrid players in particular thought about it – Aurélien Tchouaméni and Eduardo Camavinga. Just 16 days ago they were playing on the immaculate turf of Lusail Stadium in the World Cup final. Here, they were playing the opposite kind of game of football. In fact, Carlo Ancelotti even called this kind of game a different sport in his post-match press conference.
1. Rodrygo, Copa del Rey and Pelé’s funeral. It was meant to be, wasn’t it?
While some will forget this Cacereño game by the time they wake up tomorrow, it did produce one very memorable moment: Rodrygo’s goal. It may have been against fourth-tier opposition, but it was the kind of dribble and finish that is impressive no matter who you’re playing against. On the day of Pelé’s funeral, the Brazilian youngster was able to dedicate his goal to ‘The King’ in the King’s Cup, copying Pelé’s famous celebration and pointing up to the footballing legend in the sky.
2. Has Odriozola played his last Real Madrid game?
Early round Copa del Rey matches are for rotation, to the point where even Álvaro Odriozola was used. This was the full-back’s first appearance at all this season, but he couldn’t even last the whole game as he suffered an injury right at the start of the second half, forcing Ancelotti to shake up his back line. Given how poor he was even when he was on the pitch and given that he suffered an injury at the most inopportune time for him personally, was this maybe Odriozola’s last game for Real Madrid? There aren’t going to be many other matches where Ancelotti trusts him enough even for a bit-part role and it’s likely he’ll finally depart the club this summer, even though he has a contract until 2024.
3. When will Ancelotti next get to take the bus?
As this article is published, the Real Madrid delegation are currently on a bus back from Extremadura to Madrid. This made headlines in Spain because Real Madrid haven’t travelled by bus to a game outside of the Community of Madrid since 2017, as exemplified by the 15-minute plane journey they took to get to nearby Real Valladolid just last week. For this game, the transport links with Cáceres are so poor that they had no choice but to take a three-hour bus journey there and back. Although this has been a slightly humorous talking point in the Spanish media these past few days, one person who seems quite happy about it all is Carlo Ancelotti. “I like to go by bus as I can see more of the Spanish countryside,” he said. When will he next get to travel by bus? Probably not this season, as there aren’t many more out-of-the-way cities left in this year’s Copa del Rey.