Real Madrid were eliminated from the Copa del Rey on Thursday night as they fell to a second defeat this season at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano against Atlético Madrid, this time taking the tie to extra-time before being beaten 4-2. In an end-to-end and thrilling encounter, a Jan Oblak own goal and Joselu strike cancelled out goals from Samuel Lino and Álvaro Morata, but Antoine Griezmann and Rodrigo Riquelme strikes in the final 30 minutes would give the Colchoneros a tense victory.
1. How strong a team would Carlo Ancelotti put out?
Pre-match, Ancelotti had highlighted that he would “play the best team possible taking into account the travel and the tiredness” which opened the door to some speculation that he could rotate his line-up. There was no sign of rotation in the team that the Italian put out, however. The only two changes saw Eduardo Camavinga and Luka Modrić replace Aurelién Tchouameni and Toni Kroos in the midfield, though both would later come off the bench. Brahim Díaz had been linked with a possible start and made a real impact when he arrived on the field, as did Joselu as a focal point in attack, but both Rodrygo Goes and Vinícius Júnior looked tired in attack. In midfield, the absence of Toni Kroos, whose excellent form has continued of late, was another question mark.
2. Would Atlético put three past Real Madrid for a third time?
No. They’d put four past Real Madrid this time. It’s a bizarre stat as Real Madrid have conceded the same number of goals against Atlético in three games (10 goals), as they have in 20 games against any other Spanish team. Atlético do have a potent attack, with Álvaro Morata suddenly finding his scoring boots this season and Antoine Griezmann enjoying the best season of his career, but even so, the way that they have found gaps in the Real Madrid defence is a concern. There’s also an element of fortune involved. The first two Atlético goals on Thursday night both involved fortunate deflections off Antonio Rüdiger, the third a poor loss of possession from Vinícius on the halfway line, and the fourth was a counter-attack in the final moments of the game. The meeting in LALIGA in two weeks’ time will need to be different.
3. Would this be as close a battle as the Super Cup clash?
If there’s been one word to define the two previous Madrid derbies of this season, it was “battle”. The 3-1 defeat at the Metropolitano in September and the Super Cup clash last week pushed the limits of intensity and physicality, and this game was no different, even surpassing the previous two. There were many similarities to the last meeting here, where both teams looked potent offensively and shambolic defensively, meaning that they couldn’t be separated in 90 minutes. Eventually, the difference in fitness levels told. In truth, the difference between the two sides was not as significant as it should have been. Atleti had enjoyed a full week of rest to prepare for this game, whereas Real Madrid did not return to Spain from Saudi Arabia until Monday, having played Barcelona on Sunday. To maintain the level of intensity that they did for 120 minutes after only a few days of rest and preparation is a real testament to Real Madrid’s fitness levels.
1. Was this a reality check for Vinícius Júnior?
On Sunday, Vinícius Júnior produced arguably his best performance in a Real Madrid shirt. On Thursday, Vinícius Júnior produced arguably his worst performance in a Real Madrid shirt. This wasn’t an off day where Vini would be quiet, marked out of the game, and struggle to influence proceedings. It was a case of a player snatching at chances, needlessly taking risks and becoming absorbed by the opposition and their fans to the detriment of his own team. It’s true that the Brazilian was on the end of some vile abuse and some hard tackles, but he was fortunate not to be sent off and leave his team-mates with one man down in a 120-minute battle of incredible intensity. Post-match, Carlo Ancelotti vaguely spoke of “young players sigh quality forcing things” when “it’s not necessary” and said that Vinícius “would learn” from his yellow card. He needs to do that sooner rather than later, before the sideshow overtakes the main event.
2. How long until Thibaut Courtois is back?
Andriy Lunin has been the far more convincing option between the sticks in recent weeks, but here he failed to cover himself in glory at all. The irony is that his xGoT faced, the stat that shows how many goals he might be expected to concede, was actually quite impressive with four conceded and a xGoT faced of 5.27. One save, from Álvaro Morata just seconds before Joselu’s equaliser, was game-changing. Without that impressive stop, the game would’ve been over in 90 minutes. But without him flapping at a cross into the box, Atleti never would’ve taken the lead again in the first place. This season is a write-off for Courtois, but Real Madrid need him back to reach their best possible level. The defensive stats from this season are already impressive, but imagine what they could be and how far this team could go with a world class goalkeeper between the sticks.
3. Could elimination be a blessing in disguise?
Being knocked out of any competition hurts, and this one is no different for Real Madrid. But still, it will give some much needed breathing room. It’s incredibly difficult for any side to compete on three different fronts until May, and with the injuries that have hit Real Madrid, particularly in defence, it would have been even more of a challenge. A run to the Copa del Rey final would have meant three more midweek fixtures, including one between LALIGA fixtures against Atlético and Girona, and a potential final just days before a possible Champions League quarter-final. Having a full week to rest and train, something that Real Madrid have rarely, will be a real boost to Carlo Ancelotti as he manages his players and their fitness levels at the business end of the season.