Real Madrid have stormed into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals after thumping Zaragoza at La Romareda by 0-4. Both sides made eight changes to their line-ups which played in their respective leagues in the previous fixture. Zaragoza quite uncharacteristically showed the white flag by announcing a second-string starting line-up against Real Madrid. Los Blancos made no mistake to take full advantage of it as the scoreline suggests. Here’s how it all unfolded:
Even a second-string Real Madrid can be extremely dangerous and that is exactly what happened in the round of 16 fixture. James, Jović, and Vinicius Jr. found their way back to the starting line up and the Real Madrid defense was the same one they usually field during Champions League finals, barring the new addition of Areola. Madrid started the game on the stronger foot in the beautiful playing conditions at the La Romareda stadium.
It did not take long for Madrid to get ahead as Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal beautifully organized a corner routine that found Raphael Varane on the far-post. The French defender bagged his 3rd goal of the year from close range. Madrid’s visible superiority was rewarded by a well-composed team goal. Los Blancos carried on their good display even after the goal.
Toni Kroos was simply too good for Zaragoza. The German sniper is well regarded for his outstanding press resistance, but on this particular night, his game was just ridiculously good. He paid no heed to Zaragoza’s press, won balls in key areas and carried the ball when necessary. Casemiro’s absence meant Kroos had to be extra cautious, which he was. Yet he delivered one of his best displays of the season in this cup fixture.
Vinicius combined really well with James around the 12th minute of the game but the Colombian saw his effort put away for a corner. Former Manchester United man Kagawa almost scored the equalizer for Zaragoza but his well-worked strike was saved by Real Madrid’s number one- Areola. Minutes later, Valverde got a great chance from Carvajal’s cut-back inside the area. But the Uruguayan youngster scuffed the shot over the bar.
Real Madrid doubled the lead on the 32nd minute. Once again, Toni Kroos was at his best as he won the ball, provided a precise pass to Lucas Vázquez who made no mistake from a thumping finish past the Zaragoza keeper. Just after half an hour of play, Real Madrid were already cruising. They were in complete control of the proceedings by that period of the game but the scoreline remained the same as the referee blew the whistle for the half-time break.
There was no change in personnel for either side after the break the game didn’t change much either. Real Madrid were dominating possession, spending a lot of time on their right flank but not getting a goal. Carvajal, Lucas, and James combined in multiple good exchanges on the right flank but Zaragoza were being stubborn in defense. Victor Fernandez thought it was finally time to bring on his chief weapon – Luis Javier Suarez.
The game actually changed a lot after Suarez came on for Linares. Madrid were taken by surprise after Zaragoza suddenly changed gears. They looked a much more formidable side than their first-half version as Suarez was now a threatening outlet in the final third. After the sudden surge from Zaragoza, Real Madrid narrowed their positioning across the pitch. This was allowing Zaragoza to exploit a lot of space on both wings through Pereira and Soro but Madrid stood firm in the center of their area.
Sergio Ramos was taken off as Nacho entered the pitch for him around the hour mark. Madrid were slowly regaining their authority in the game after the brief onslaught from Zaragoza. The game was completely put beyond all kinds of doubts on the 72nd minute by Vinicius Jr. He exchanged a brilliant one-two with James and then chipped the ball over the keeper. It was a beautiful move to cap-off the excellent game Vinicius had.
He made way for Brahim immediately and the Spaniard kept the show going forward. Benzema replaced Jović who once again had a poor game. The Serbian’s off-the-ball movement, urge to win the ball, positioning and first touches were all below par compared to his teammates who are clearly on an upward curve as far as the hunger to do more is concerned. But after the match, Zidane himself affirmed that the young striker is still going through a learning phase in Spain and he will soon be at his best.
Back to the game, it was still not all over as far as the scoresheet is concerned. Brahim tried a nice shot from distance after bamboozling a couple of defenders but his effort went way over the goal. Real Madrid’s main talisman – Karim Benzema returned to scoring ways after Carvajal facilitated a simple tap-in for Big-Benz. Real Madrid went 0-4 up. Kagawa and Blanco made some late efforts to get one back for the home side but they failed in each of their attempts. At full-time, Real Madrid comfortably moved to the quarter-final phase of Spain’s premier cup competition.
Line-ups and Key Events
Real Zaragoza XI: Alvaro; Julian, Atienza, Grippo, Clemete; Pereira, James, Inigo, Soro; Kagawa, Linares.
Substitute(s): Suarez for Linares (58′), Pereira for Blanco (59′), Guti for Soro (74′).
Real Madrid XI: Areola; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; James, Valverde, Kroos; Lucas Vázquez, Jović, Vinicius Jr.
Goal(s): Varane (6′), Lucas (32′), Vinicius (72′), Benzema (79′).
Substitute(s): Nacho for Ramos (68′), Brahim and Benzema for Vinicius Jr. and Jović (73′).