FFT.com's Spanish expert Tim Stannard looks ahead to Wednesday night's Copa del Rey semi-final...
Although the actual, proper, serious result of Tuesday’s Copa del Rey Madrid derby in the Vicente Calderón was never in any doubt - Real Madrid held a 3-0 advantage from the first leg - it still delivered in niggles, face slaps and general bad behaviour. For this, the two sides should be applauded as the match could have been a much drabber affair.
As it was, the already-over contest was really, really over after 16 minutes. Atlético gave away two penalties which were both converted gleefully by Cristiano Ronaldo, who wasn't suspended for the contest (as he is in La Liga).
Diego Simeone was well aware of this dead rubber's nature, however, and played a considerably weaker starting XI than normal bearing in mind his injury hit-squad showing signs of fatigue (though not to the extent that the goal-shy Adrían played).
The players bickered with one another when the goals were scored - step forward Raúl García and Xabi Alonso - before throwing cheeky elbows. Ronaldo even managed to get his head in the way of a cigarette lighter thrown from the crowd, an action which could see Atlético in a spot of bother with a fine that might even reach triple figures, knowing how Spain's discipline system works.
Still, Iker Casillas was nice about the incident, saying it didn't reflect the “quality of the Atlético fans”. It wasn't surprising to see the goalkeeper in such a good mood considering that a) he played, b) extended his unbeaten record to 862 consecutive minutes and c) went 26 derbies without being beaten.
Wednesday sees Barcelona take on Real Sociedad in the Basque Country. A 2-0 deficit gives the home team a tiny, slither of hope in the two-legged contest, and manager Jagoba Arrasate has a crazy plan that could see La Real prevail. “It’s tough, but if we drive the game, don’t concede and score we will be closer,” claimed the Spanish manager.
Although it's an old cliché, and LLL loves using those, an early goal really could rattle a Barcelona side with the iffiest of defences theses days. It’s a theory followed by Josep Maria Casanovas in Sport, who writes: “If the same half an hour against Sevilla happens again then it could be a disaster,” adding that Barcelona will need to approach the encounter as a league game and go out to win. Or at least, throw away a two-goal lead thanks to Gerard Piqué.
For Santi Nolla in Mundo Deportivo, the match and potential final against Real Madrid is a chance for Barcelona to adapt to a new environment. “The media safety belt is no longer there, the one they had during the most glorious era,” he writes. “The style, the youth system, the tactics, the crowd and even the players' effort are questioned.”
Despite the mini-fireworks on the pitch, the Madrid derby was always going to be a bit of damp squib. However, Barcelona will leave enough room at the back for La Real to have some hope of at least making their Catalan visitors fight for a place in the Copa del Rey final, and set up yet another Clásico encounter.
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