FFT's Spanish expert Tim Stannard on Spain's old cup competition given a fresh lease of life...
One of the many gripes of the blog over the years has been why the Copa del Rey can’t be a little bit more like the FA Cup in terms of its prestige and drama. Indeed, it's a sensation felt by most football fans in Spain.
However, the fundamental problem is that the competition is now largely designed to give Barcelona and Real Madrid at leg-up at winning it (like they need it). This is why both teams are always drawn against the weakest opponents possible when the Primera clubs join at the last-32 stage.
However, one positive move has been taken in giving more oomph to a contest that has been running since 1902. This change sees the first leg of this particular round being moved from a midweek slot to pride of place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, swapping places with the league round which would normally squat in this particular time zone.
Unfortunately, the result of today's World Cup draw will eat up the oxygen of attention, along with a two-legged format immune to shocks. Nevertheless, here are five tasty ties to keep a beady eye on as you work out the billion-to-one odds of England finding glory in Brazil.
Racing Santander vs Sevilla (Fri, 20.00 CET)
LLL is going to be staying close to this one (well, we might catch the highlights at least). The blog must confess that it quite fancies Sevilla as an outside bet for the cup. It must be noted, though, that this prediction is based wholly on a decent record in the competition of late, rather than by looking at any kind of form or in La Liga.
“The cup is not just any other competition for Sevilla,” noted Unai Emery looking ahead to Friday’s game. “In the past few seasons the club has had a near constant presence in the semi-finals.”
There is extra spice too, to see how the club will react to the imminent resignation of president José María del Nido, following the seven-year jail sentence that's been handed out to the lawyer for fraud and corruption.
Sant Andreu vs Atletico Madrid (Sat, 16.00 CET)
In LLL’s opinion, Atlético Madrid should withdraw from the competition by simply failing to turn up for both games. Or play Juanfran up front as a sign of surrender.
Quite frankly, life is not going to get any better for the Rojiblancos having won the Copa del Rey in the Santiago Bernabeu last season against Real Madrid, so the club should make an official goodbye to the competition. But Atlético are run by Diego Simeone which means that every game is a final, a battle between good and evil and a chance to continue a spectacular campaign.
Cartagena vs Barcelona (Sat, 22.00 CET)
Both of these sides have very different fish to fry this weekend. For Barcelona it's to avoid a third consecutive defeat in as many competitions. As Gerard Piqué growled, the team needs to “remain down or move forward” (but presumably not the first bit).
For Cartagena, a team currently third in Group 4 of Spain’s third tier, the double-header against the league leaders is a vital way to earn some cash and stave off the evil sharks of economic reality from nibbling their toesies. “We have a budget of one million euros and this game will cover about half of that,” revealed Cartagena president, Fran de Paula.
Olimpic Xátiva vs Real Madrid (Sat, 22.00 CET)
Ah, the romance of the cup. The chance for starry-eyed footballers to share the limelight with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale. The opportunity for fame and everyone remembering their name. Yes, Saturday is a big day for Iker Casillas, who gets a run out with Diego López being rested along with much of the Real Madrid first-team squad.
But seeing as that leaves the likes of Asier Illarramendi and Angel di María out on the pitch, the capital team are hardly going to be struggling out in the provinces. In theory.