The new format of the Copa del Rey had its doubters but after the round of 32 but many of them have become admirers. Perhaps Atlético Madrid fans would oppose this but the single games until the semi-finals have breathed some fresh air into the rather dull first few rounds of the previous versions. Among the top guns, both Real Madrid and Barcelona had to dig deep to advance to the round of 16 after facing difficult playing conditions in their previous outings. But here we are as Real Madrid are traveling to face Zaragoza in a match that pretty much guarantees a better billing than the round of 32. When we say billing, mean both figuratively and literally. Why is that? Well, let’s find out in our match preview:
A Nemesis for the Ages
If the Copa del Rey is Real Madrid’s boogie competition then Real Zaragoza are the boogie opponent for them. Zaragoza has been a real thorn in the path for Los Blancos as they delivered two thumping defeats to the men in Whites during Zidane’s playing days. Carlos Queiroz’s team fell short against a spirited Zaragoza side in the final of 2004. Even Zaragoza players were not expecting to win the game as their former winger Savio revisited the historic day in an interview with Radio Marca:
“We were up against a team with Roberto Carlos, Figo, Raul, Zidane. It wasn’t easy and I remember that when we won the final, we had nothing planned, not even a dinner. Nobody, apart from the Zaragoza fans, who always support their team, expected it. We won, we went back to the hotel and everyone did their own thing, we hadn’t prepared any celebrations at all.”
Zaragoza defeated Madrid by 6-1 at home in the 2006 edition of the Copa. Zaragoza are seeing this game as a golden opportunity to raise some revenue as well. They have doubled up on ticket prices for the epic match since Real Madrid is coming to town. The cheapest option was priced at 60 Euros while the most expensive one could be bought for 95 Euros.
Víctor Fernández, the home team manager, has called upon 19 players for this round of-16 clash. Here’s the full list:
Cristian Álvarez, Álvaro Ratón, Carlos Vigaray, Alberto Guitián, Miguel Linares, André Pereira, Alberto Soro, Javi Puado, James Igbekeme, Raúl Guti, Álex Blanco, Iñigo Eguaras, Carlos Nieto, Pichu Atienza, Simone Grippo, Julián Delmás, Shinji Kagawa, Luis Suárez and Enrique Clemente.
Zinedine Zidane has rested Casemiro, Isco, and Militão for this game. Vinicius Jr. and Brahim returned to the squad after missing out during the weekend. Bale, Hazard, Asensio and Mariano are recovering from injuries. Here’s the full squad:
Alphonse Areola, Thibaut Courtois, Diego Altube, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Nacho, Marcelo, Ferland Mendy, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Fede Valverde, James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema, Lucas Vázquez, Luka Jović, Brahim, Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo.
What to Expect
Casemiro has been a pivotal player for Real Madrid this season. He has served the team like a machine and the Brazilian has done so without much rest. Zidane has to be extremely cautious with his approach in this game as there is no rematch to play at the Bernabéu if anything goes south. Fede Valverde’s inclusion in midfield is almost guaranteed since the Uruguayan did pretty well against Valencia when he had to deputize for Casemiro. Lucas Vázquez could also return to the starting XI and Vinicius Jr. can take over the left-wing while Benzema is expected to start this one as the main striker in the middle.
Nacho’s heroics in Valladolid can earn him a place as a center back along with Ramos. Varane could use a bit of rest as well but Carvajal and Marcelo are likely to start as the fullbacks. Areola should retain his place as the cup keeper.
Zaragoza are coming into this game in raging form having won five out their last five games. They conceded only two goals in the process and scored 10 themselves. Real Madrid loanee Alberto Soro is waiting on the right-wing of their 4-4-2 formation in order to face his parent club. Barcelona’s Luis Suarez has haunted Real Madrid many times but Zaragoza have a Luis Suarez of their own. Luis Javier Suarez has scored 14 goals in 23 matches in the second division this season and he will be a key threat to Real Madrid.
Head to Head
Last 19 games.
Real Zaragoza: 6
Real Madrid: 12
Real Zaragoza: W W W W W
Real Madrid: W W W D W
Real Zaragoza: Raton; Delmas, Guitian, Grippo, Clemente; Eguaras, James, Alex Blanco, Kagawa, Nieto, Pereira.
Real Madrid: Areola; Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Marcelo; Valverde, Kroos, Modric; Lucas, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
Players to Watch
Suarez, Real Zaragoza
The Zaragoza center forward will try his best to keep the Real Madrid defense busy.
Fede Valverde, Real Madrid
Filling in for Casemiro again, Fede Valverde has a big job to do.
Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez.
“We are going to fight a giant, but in football everything is possible” – Víctor Fernández.
“When I put on a Real Madrid jersey, I want to do a top job in every game. This is a Copa del Rey clash, it’s our next job and we want to give it our best. We prepare to be in great shape and do a good job on the pitch when the games come around.” – Zinedine Zidane.