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.
Real Madrid vs Athletic Club: End of an era, farewells, tight race for second place
Real Madrid will walk down the tunnel of Santiago Bernabeu one last time this season on Sunday night. The men in white are pitted against Athletic Club on their final match-day, and the game will not be an easy affair by any means.
The Basque side sit in seventh place on the league standings with 50 points in 37 appearances. However, their qualification for the UEFA Conference League is in danger with Osasuna lurking close behind with an equal number of points.
Anything less than a win could prove insufficient for the visitors and it is clear that they arrive at Santiago Bernabeu with nothing less than a win on their agenda. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Athletic Club Bilbao.
1. The end of an era for the number 9 shirt?
The grey area around Karim Benzema’s future has only widened in recent days. From a situation where his continuity at Real Madrid was taken for granted, it did not take long for the Frenchman’s story to enter a steep deviation.
An economically tempting proposal from Saudi Arabia had Benzema seriously contemplating a move away from Santiago Bernabeu, and reports stated that his departure from the Spanish club was close to complete.
The world, thus, looked in anticipation of his next official interaction with the media. The Ballon d’Or winner publicly addressed the topic for the first time earlier this week, and it is safe to say that his words gave nothing away.
Benzema neither confirmed nor completely refuted the rumours of his exit to the media. His situation is balanced on the blade of a knife and could tip in either direction.
In that sense, there is a good chance that tomorrow’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu is Karim Benzema’s final game for Real Madrid. If the striker does choose to change loyalties, it would mark the end of an era for the team’s number nine position.
It has been over a decade since the Frenchman took over the prestigious kit. He has played 647 games for the club so far in his career, scoring a stunning 353 goals in the process. Of them, 98 have been match-winning contributions.
2. A day of farewells
Earlier today, Real Madrid announced the departure of Marco Asensio from the club. The Spanish winger appears set to sign for PSG for the 2023-24 season and will bid adieu on Sunday. However, he will not be the only player playing his final game for the club tomorrow.
Nacho Fernandez has been a critical part of Real Madrid’s success in recent years but is another name close to sealing an exit. The defender is not satisfied with the playing time under his belt at the club and has not yet responded to the renewal offer on his table.
With his contract running out in less than 30 days, he appears closer to leaving than staying. One can expect an announcement from Nacho on Sunday night after the game at the Bernabeu, which could be his final game in white.
The situation with Dani Ceballos is quite similar. The Spanish midfielder is still undecided on his future, although there is still a slight chance he could continue at the club. Staying on the subject of players making their final appearance, however, he could be one on the list.
Away from the stories of incomplete renewal negotiations, Mariano Diaz is one player whose departure from the club is confirmed. Ferland Mendy, Jesus Vallejo, Alvaro Odriozola and Eden Hazard are some of the other candidates well-placed to make departures, although nothing can be said for sure.
3. A tight race for second place
There is not much to play for on Sunday night except for the emotional tag of it being the season’s final game. Yet, the men in white will not be without an objective against Athletic Club.
Los Blancos sit on 77 points in 37 league appearances this season and just have a one-point lead over third-placed Atletico Madrid. Needless to say, they must be vary of their position on the standings for any complacency could see them drop down the ladder.
Diego Simeone’s men take on fifth-placed Villarreal at the same time as Real Madrid’s game against Athletic Club. Even if Carlo Ancelotti’s men settle for a draw against the Basque side, the second place would be Atletico Madrid’s to lose.
With both games kicking off simultaneously, there will be nerves throughout the ninety minutes in Madrid. One can only hope for action-filled games to keep the anxiety and adrenaline high.