Three talking points ahead of CP Cacereno vs Real Madrid | Copa del Rey
On Friday night, Real Madrid returned to action after the World Cup with a 2-0 win over Real Valladolid in La Liga. The defending champions did not produce their best football for eighty minutes, but a late surge in the final third and a Karim Benzema brace in six minutes helped them secure three points.
On Tuesday, they step onto the grass again, this time to commence their campaign in Copa del Rey. They face CP Cacereno in a single-legged Round of 32 fixture and will have to weather the storm in their opponents’ own backyard.
All eyes will be on Carlo Ancelotti on the night to see how he manages his men, especially given that his side must face Villarreal in less than 72 hours after tomorrow’s game. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Los Blancos‘ Copa del Rey curtain-raiser.
1. A competiton that has eluded the team for too long
It was during the 2013-14 season that Real Madrid took on Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, winning it by a scoreline of 2-1. The game at Mestalla is firmly rooted in the memory of fans, but it is astounding that the club have not won the competition ever since.
Close to a decade later, Real Madrid are yet to even reach a Copa del Rey final. The men in white have been eliminated from the competition year after year on the back of embarrassing defeats. The reason – a mixture of poor fortune and possibly, complacency.
Last season, they fell prey to Athletic Club in the quarterfinal stage after conceding a late winner from Alex Berenguer in the 89th minute. This time around, Carlo Ancelotti will be determined to take his men all the way in the Spanish Cup.
The manager explicitly stated in his press conference that it had been a long time since the team tasted triumph in the cup and that they would push for it this season. With the squad rejuvenated after the international break, Los Blancos will go out with all guns firing against Cacereno.
2. The chance to test the reserves
Rescheduling the FIFA World Cup to the winter was a move that saw severe backlash, especially because it congested the club football calendar on either side.
Now having to complete over half the season’s total games in five months, top European sides face extremely tight calendars with a game every three days.
Needless to say, rotation is key in such situations. The Copa del Rey presented the best possible chance for the manager to shuffle his cards, and given that their opposition play in the Segunda RFEF, Real Madrid could field a completely rotated side on Tuesday.
Andriy Lunin will almost certainly start in goal after impressing with his performances early in the season. His goal could be covered by a centre-back duo of Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao.
Dani Carvajal will be rested for Lucas Vazquez on the night while Ferland Mendy could be rested. In midfield, one could expect Eduardo Camavinga, Dani Ceballos and Aurelien Tchouameni to feature with the veterans rested.
With Karim Benzema set to be rested, Rodrygo Goes is best placed to start as the striker with Marco Asensio taking duties on the right flank. Eden Hazard is set to be given an opportunity on the left flank, as was confirmed by Ancelotti in his presser after the Valladolid clash.
3. A show of no mercy
Real Madrid are a club traditionally associated with merciless football with no element of empathy or complacency. However, that has changed in the Copa del Rey in recent years as the team have taken the competition and inferior opposition for granted. Rightfully so, they have been punished accordingly.
If the Merengues are to go all the way in the competition this year, they must return to their brand of ruthless football. Be the opposition a Champions League-calibre side or one from the third division, the men in white must churn out their best displays and look to assert their dominance.
Cacereno may not be a well-known side or even a top team for that matter. However, it is usually such sides that have the underdog card that permits them to play fearless and attacking football.
Ancelotti’s men will have to be wary in defence, for their opponents have nothing to lose. A win would be wildly celebrated but a loss would not be a loss in any practical sense for the Caceres-based side.
Goals, energy, leadership: Three things Bellingham can offer to Real Madrid
Real Madrid have been notoriously heavy spenders in the summer transfer market in the past but have not spent an awful lot over the last few seasons due to financial restrictions and their team finding its peak at the right time.
Real Madrid did shell out close to €100 million for Aurelien Tchouameni last year, and got Eduardo Camavinga in the summer of 2021 for around €400 million, too.
It does seem like they have a huge summer planned ahead of them, though. The club plans to splash some cash on multiple positions, including centre-forward, right-wing, central midfield, and across the defence.
Some targets are laid out for these positions, with Kylian Mbappe naturally being on the list.
However, one definite target for Madrid that’s been well-established already is Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham. His price tag is set at around €100-140 million, and Los Blancos are among the teams leading the race for his signature, alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.
The Englishman has an obviously high ceiling and is already among the best players in his position in Europe. Moreover, he adds depth across various skillsets and attributes that Real Madrid currently lack or will lack as the clock marches on.
Madrid Universal explores three different things Bellingham can bring to the table for an already talented Galacticos side.
Goals from midfield
Despite not playing an advanced role, Bellingham is a rather experienced poacher in the box. This comes with his thorough understanding of offensive routines, and timing his runs to perfection in the box.
Being 6’1″ and physically gifted, the teenager can attack crosses and passes into the box with ease. He boasts of a rather impressive leap as well, which was more than visible during the World Cup, when he opened the scoring against Iran.
Goal – JUDE BELLINGHAM— masih miness (@WorldCup__id) November 21, 2022
England 1-0 Iran (34 mins) pic.twitter.com/CkCxl45mU1
The English midfielder has scored four goals in the league for Dortmund, and has accumulated an xG of 5.25 across the season. That is nearly two more than Madrid’s highest scoring midfielder – Luka Modric.
Currently, Madrid’s goals are rather lopsidedly dependent on the forward line, with Toni Kroos and Modric just chipping in with a combined six goals in the league out of a possible 51.
While both players, and Camavinga, are adept at shooting from range, neither quite provide the box threat or the third-man runs Madrid are currently craving for.
Once Karim Benzema or Vinicius Jr are boxed out of the game, Carlo Ancelotti’s side struggle with ideas, and are often stuck in a pattern of crossing and hoping for the best.
And even with that, Bellingham could prove to be an excellent solution to their problems, coming up with late runs into the box and attacking crosses and loose balls.
Far too many times this season, Ancelotti has been criticised for using Modric and Kroos in the same midfield. Especially when their bench holds the likes of Camavinga, Dani Ceballos, and sometimes even Federico Valverde.
However, it is clear that these players have been delegated to certain roles in midfield. Camavinga and Tchouameni shuffle as pivot options, while Ceballos is called upon add more creativity in the centre of the park.
Bellingham, while far from the best ball retainer, certainly has energy and lungs for days. He can run from box to box, receive and turn in a crowded midfield, and chase the ball till the 90.
While they have Valverde in a similar mould, the Uruguayan has been tasked with running the right-wing more often than not, at least under Ancelotti. It will be interesting to see how another coach would utilise both players to their respective strengths should the transfer go through.
Long-term captaincy candidate
At 19, Bellingham has already shown signs of becoming a captain for any side he plays for, for years to come. He has donned the armband for Dortmund several times this season already, and was first awarded with it in October, becoming the youngest captain in Bundesliga history.
Currently, he holds the position of third captain for Dortmund, behind Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, but has already held the armband multiple times, including twice in the UEFA Champions League.
While Madrid have a fair few leaders in their ranks, including and not limited to the likes of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and David Alaba, Bellingham has clearly proved that he is not only capable of taking on a leadership role, but also spearheading any side for years to come.
If all works out, the price tag of €120+ million will soon start to pale in comparison to the attributes he brings to the table alongside his unbelievably high ceiling and longevity.