Copa del Rey nearly cancels Christmas

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And there was La Liga Loca thinking, as it skipped out of the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday with the clock about to strike midnight, that things were more or less done and dusted until after Christmas.

Clubs would be shutting down for ten days, players flying off to Brazil only to return some time in February a good 10 kilos heavier, but most importantly of all there would be no ‘he-said, she-said, Barça this, Real Madrid that’ nonsense in the press for a wee while giving LLL the chance to load up on hot Colo Cao and go nuts.

But no. That’s because the frackin’ Spanish FA have scheduled a round of frackin’ Copa del Rey matches this week - presumably leaving all managers and players involved rather miffed.

In fact, the Copa dominates the schedules for the next month in Spain, with the last 16 second leg being played just after New Year followed by round after round in quick succession until the second semi-final on the February 2. The tournament then curiously vanishes from the schedule until the end of April.

Six lucky teams get to play their first leg ties on Tuesday night, leaving them free to flee a day earlier than ten not so lucky teams. Athletic Bilbao head to the Camp Nou in a match that could have been awarded the description of mildly interesting had Fernando Llorente not crocked a muscle or two and pulled out of the squad. This leaves ‘Jokin’ Caparrós with the option of playing Gaizka Toquero up front on his own. And that’s not a good one.

“Barcelona are better than the side from the season when they won everything,” freaked the Athletic boss. “The objective is to have a good game and give ourselves options in San Mamés.

But even the Basque club’s potential ‘park the bus and take the tie back to Bilbao in a fortnight’ plan looks a dodgy one with goalkeeper, Gorka Iraizoz, continuing his ‘mare of a campaign with another blunder to give Levante an equalising goal on Saturday.

Footballing matters could be both frisky and frosty on the east coast with Villarreal looking to end the year on an Adrian Mutu-style high by taking on Valencia in Mestalla at the fan friendly time of 22:00 which should see the normally grumpy home support in an even worse mood than normal.

The derby is already a spicy one but has an extra dash of bile after a recent 1-1 draw in El Madrigal that saw tough-talking, no nonsense, New Jersey detective and Villarreal boss, Juan Carlos Garrido refusing to shake the hand of Unai Emery post-match and his Valencia counterpart having a bit of a hand flap in return.

The third tie of the evening features the first of just two second division sides having a pop at a Primera big boy. Córdoba are inflicting pain and suffering on their supporters by hosting Deportivo, whose miserable manager, Miguel Angel Lotina is - as to be expected - looking forward to a long, grey, torturous encounter in the Andalusian city.

Despite Deportivo having one of the easier paths to the final with Córdoba and then either Mallorca or Almería to reach the semis, the depressed Depor boss certainly isn’t getting carried away. Or letting anyone else either.

“I still think the same about the cup,” intoned Lotina, “it stills looks really tough although the draw has created expectations. There are two teams from la Segunda, but there are those from la Primera: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal, Atlético, Athletic, Espanyol...” continued the Deportivo boss positively shuddering at the thought of a good result on Tuesday night to take to back to Galicia.