Real Madrid are back in action later today at 21:00 CET, and return to cup action as they travel to the Estadio El Collao for a Copa del Rey third-round encounter against third-tier side Alcoyano.
When the draw was announced, it was obviously met with jubilant scenes in Alcoy, a relatively small community of Valencia. And they must know that they’re facing the defending La Liga champions at the ideal time, perhaps it’s set up for an upset.
To get to the third round, Vicente Parras’ men beat Laredo, before hosting and defeating La Liga’s Huesca 2-1, which allowed them to set this behemoth last-32 clash with Real – truly David vs Goliath. Alcoyano had in fact been on a five match winning streak, but it came to an end one game prior to their game against Real, as they drew 0-0 with Hercules at the weekend.
While they’ll have nothing to lose, Madrid are back in somewhat of a sticky wicket. Results haven’t been great, in fact, Zinedine Zidane’s side only have one win from their previous four games in all competitions, the other two were disappointing and toothless draws, while they come into this on the back of a Spanish Super Cup semi-final elimination, losing 2-1 to eventual champions Athletic Club.
And it’s never a dull day at Real either, with Luka Jovic already leaving on loan, and scoring a brace on his returning debut with Frankfurt, yesterday evening, Martin Ødegaard has reportedly asked to leave on loan for the rest of the season, having been left out of the matchday squad to face Alcoyano.
There have been shocking exits for Real at the hands of minnows in this competition, and with the likelihood of Zidane rotating heavily, today’s hosts shouldn’t be afraid of going all out for an upset.
The key talking point
While key squad players like Ødegaard and Jovic aren’t in the plan, the question is, how does Zidane approach this game. Surely, it would make the most sense to try and integrate other players who aren’t playing as much, but simultaneously, the likes of Eden Hazard and Federico Valverde could use this 90 minutes as a means for getting match-fitness.
It’s likely that the starting XI will look a lot different, and it’ll be exciting to see Antonio Blanco given a chance if Zidane is brave enough to start the Real Madrid Castilla defensive midfielder. He’s perfectly able, but hasn’t really been given much of a look in the first team, hopefully that changes once he’s given a chance and impresses against Alcoyano. Another player who really needs time on the pitch is Vinicius Junior, who’s been completely frozen out in recent games, and parked on the bench.
Zidane has big decisions to make, does he continue to believe in his ageing core, or does he shake and freshen things up with the addition of capable youngsters across the pitch. One player who certainly deserves more games is Valverde, who was one of the key reasons for Real’s title winning season. His introduction, alongside Casemiro and Ferland Mendy helped stabilise the defence and ultimately led to the league title win, but even he isn’t being prioritised, with Zidane instead opting for his midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric, in an attempt to bring them back to life. He needs to evolve.
Alcoyano won’t be able to call upon the likes of Manuel Raillo and Ruben Garces, but Parras has everyone else available for the visit of Los Merengues. It’ll be a nice evening for 35-year-old Jony Niguez, brother of Atletico Madrid’s Saul, and 41-year-old Jose Figueras will be in-between the sticks.
Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric are rested, while Ødegaard was shockingly discarded. Rodrygo Goes and Dani Carvajal are out with injuries. Two Castilla players – Victor Chust and Blanco – made the cut for this squad. Whether they feature or not, is an entirely different conversation to be had.
Madrid obviously should come through this, anything but progression is going to cause an earthquake in the Spanish capital, with Zidane’s future no doubt at the center of the debate. With the likes of Hazard, Vinicius and Asensio, they should get the job done, but what’s more important is how they play.
Alcoyano 1-4 Real Madrid