Real Madrid secured safe passage to the last 16 of the Copa del Rey when they took on Arandina of Segunda RFEF, the fourth tier of Spanish football. They did so through a 3-1 win where Real Madrid had to wait until 54 minutes when Brahim Díaz won a penalty, duly converted by Joselu, before adding a second goal 78 seconds later himself, to break the deadlock. Substitute Rodrygo made it three in injury time before an unfortunate deflection saw Nacho score a consolation own goal for the hosts.
1. How much would Carlo Ancelotti rotate?
A lot, it turned out. The starting line-up had 10 changes from the side that beat Mallorca in midweek, with Fran García at left-back the only man to continue in the side. The most eye-catching performance of all was that of Arda Güler, making his debut in midfield, while there was also the notable return of Eduardo Camavinga in midfield. With the Super Cup on the horizon, it was a chance for some to stake their claim to a starting spot in Saudi Arabia in the hope of more game time. It was also an opportunity for the coach to rest key players like Jude Bellingham, who got a rare break from the action and was afforded a rest without Ancelotti having to call upon his regulars to handle the tie. With two games a week every week for the upcoming future, this break was most welcome.
2. Would we see any Castilla players feature?
Three Castilla players were in the line-up, including Nico Paz making his first start, and also first team debuts for Vinícius Tobías and Álvaro Carrillo in defence. The truth is that all three may be feeling that they could have done a little more with the opportunity to impress Carlo Ancelotti. They looked comfortable, but Paz’s finishing let him down and Tobías saw his passing disappoint on more than one occasion. Additionally, Mario Martín and Álvaro Rodríguez both came off the bench for 10 and 20 minutes respectively, Martín for his first team debut and Álvaro making a long-awaited return. They may have been hoping for longer, but the failure to put the game out of sight until the hour mark clearly encouraged Ancelotti to hold off. On this showing, it’s clear to see why he may be a little reluctant to give some of these players more of a shot.
3. Would the pitch at El Montecillo impact the game or Real Madrid’s players?
The major concerns heading into these early-round ties of the Copa del Rey always surround the worries about the pitch surface and the tackles that Real Madrid players could be on the receiving end of. In this case, Arandina’s temporary home at El Montecillo was a much improved surface compared to the flooded field which hosted Cádiz in the last round. Arandina invested in improving the pitch condition and it hasn’t been played on since that game against Cádiz in early December. That’s part of why the surface was not a major talking point here, with a few bumps and rough patches not having a major influence on the game itself or threatening to cause any injuries.
1. Is Arda Güler now Real Madrid’s best free-kick taker?
Among the highlights of Arda Güler’s impressive debut was his battle with Dani Ceballos over taking a first-half free-kick. There were many different takes on that episode. Who is Arda to question a more senior player? Why didn’t Ceballos let the youngster have a go on his debut? Was it ambition or arrogance? Either way, he sent his attempt on goal rocking against the left post from a rather unnatural position for a left-footed strike. Real Madrid have struggled to convert from set pieces for some time and Ceballos himself is one of the few specialists in the squad. With this powerful effort, Arda may already have placed himself among the leading candidates for any future free-kicks in dangerous territory.
Arda Guler hits the post with a free kick! We might have a decent free kick taker finally omg pic.twitter.com/qHicQxGvel— WolfRMFC (@WolfRMFC) January 6, 2024
2. Should we worry about Joselu?
This was Joselu’s first start in over a month and he scored a penalty to convert his first goal since coming on as a sub against Union Berlin on December 12th. But still, his performance was a little worrying. Incredibly, given Real Madrid’s 78% possession, he had the fewest touches of any outfield player to play the full 90 minutes with only 23 touches. He still recorded 1.41 xG, failing to convert any of his 0.62 xG in open play from three shots, with one blocked and two off target. To have such a poor record against such lowly opposition is a worrying trend from a player who at 33 is showing signs of decline in his form this season. This game up against a team defending deep in numbers and doubling up on him, denied him space and the number of crosses was low, with only five completed, and so it may be hard to judge him on this, but it continued a concerning trend.
3. And Nacho?
On the face of it, 2023/24 was supposed to be a huge campaign for Nacho. Appointed Real Madrid captain, the prestige alone was enough, and injury to Éder Militão opened the door to more game time for him too. Halfway through the season, he’s started only 11 games, and been sent off in two, and now scored an own goal in one. It wasn’t just that though. He lost half of his duels and was dribbled past once, and if anything seemed to be the man who looked more out of place despite his 12 years of experience in advantage when compared to Carrillo alongside him. The Super Cup may give him another opportunity, but he needs to up his game to convince Ancelotti that he deserves a regular role.