In a breathless night of football, Real Sociedad shocked Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, winning 3-4 in the Copa del Rey.
The result dumps Los Blancos out at the quarter-final stage and sees La Real advance to the semi-finals for the first time since 2014. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Alexander Isak
The Swedish striker came into this blockbuster tie at the Bernabeu in impressive form. Five goals in his previous four games, including a brace in the previous round of the Copa against Osasuna, had him 11 goals in 26 appearances for the season.
In the first-half at the Bernabeu it looked like that scoring streak was coming to an end as Isak missed a host of half-chances to punish Los Blancos on the break. He never seemed able to get himself under control and hurt the slack Madrid defending (although it was his shot that was spilled for the opening goal) but at half-time that all changed.
Isak came out of the break a changed man and he absolutely destroyed Madrid in the second-half. Moving into key spaces with more authority and crucially, finding that finishing touch. After a supreme cross from half-time sub Ander Barrenetxea, Isak reached his long leg up into the sky and volleyed the ball superbly into the back of the net. It was the kind of impossibly dexterous effort that only someone with Isak’s exact proportion and technique could pull off.
His second effort was a more straightforward smack, putting his foot through the ball and driving it hard into the roof of the net to double his tally and put the game beyond Real Madrid. And then just as Madrid were mounting a comeback, Isak struck again but this time with a delicious cross that Mikel Merino converted to make it 1-4. Isak’s dominant performance is sure to turn heads and La Real will be relieved it came a week into February and not a week into January, otherwise clubs would be after him.
Loser: Alphonse Areola
Thibaut Courtois has overcome his initial struggles at the Santiago Bernabeu to re-find the kind of superlative form that he last displayed the previous time he was in the Spanish capital, winning La Liga for Atlético Madrid. He’s a huge part of why Los Blancos have kept seven clean sheets in their last 10 games.
But today he gave way to Alphonse Areola, as he often does in the Copa del Rey. And the Frenchman will have been hoping to stake his claim to a starting spot by keeping a clean sheet and getting Madrid through to the Copa semis.
Well, not only did that not happen but he instead got slapped for four by the visiting Real Sociedad. La Real last scored four goals at the Santiago Bernabeu all the way back in 2004. And not only did they score four, but for two of the goals Areola was at fault. Alright Isak’s goals were basically unsaveable but Odegaard’s effort came because he palmed an Isak shot right into the danger zone, and then his effort to save Odegaard’s shot was laughably pathetic. And then he was slow to get across to Mikel Merino’s effort, allowing it to creep in.
Winner: Martin Odegaard
Martin Odegaard signed for Real Madrid back in 2014/15, officially being presented half a decade ago in January 2015. However now in February 2020 he has finally scored a goal at the Bernabeu, only it’s against Real Madrid and the highlight of a special performance.
Los Blancos had definitely rested certain key personnel, but they still had a strong team out. And Odegaard had already fluffed his lines against Madrid earlier in the season (despite his excellent displays against basically everyone else), so this was far from a gimmie.
Yet Odegaard made it look oh so simple as he floated between the lines of Los Blancos’ midfield and defence and wreaked havoc with his passes, constantly driving it forward and keeping La Real on attack. And when Isak’s shot was saved and the rebound fell to him, he calmly stroked the ball home to give his side the lead.
Tellingly, he didn’t celebrate. And whilst Madrid may have cursed it on the night, they will be aware that Odegaard is still their player, and he is a player of immense quality that could easily star for Los Blancos in the future. His goal tonight could be one of several he scores in this historic stadium – only next time he’ll do so in Madrid white.
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Loser: Adnan Januzaj
Adnan Januzaj looked to have found brief respite from his flailing career at Real Sociedad, but since Imanol Alguacil has really had them purring, Januzaj has mostly found himself on the bench. Today even as every player in green was ripping Madrid to bits, Januzaj still managed to look utterly ineffective and it wasn’t a surprise that La Real only really torched Madrid once the Belgian was subbed off at half-time (and that his replacement got the assist for the second goal was so fitting).
Winner: Casemiro, Raphael Varane and Ferland Mendy
Real Madrid have the best squad in the world. Or if not the best, then the second or third. The depth at Zinedine Zidane’s disposal is simply mind-boggling. For instance, Los Blancos seem to genuinely be keeping James Rodriguez around purely to play the Copa del Rey. They can call on immensely quality even if they leave out several key men. And this is what they did against Real Sociedad.
But for all the quality on display tonight, the coherence was lacking. This game made it clear that Madrid’s defensive solidity depends on a few key individuals who not only play well themselves but make their team-mates better. Beyond the obvious goalkeeper situation, Casemiro, Raphael Varane and Ferland Mendy saw their reputations greatly enhanced by their absence from this debacle.
Without Casemiro to link with Fede Valverde, the midfield was wide-open for La Real to play through. Without Raphael Varane to anchor things, Sergio Ramos was all at sea and couldn’t be his usually dominant sense. And without Ferland Mendy’s recovery pace, Marcelo was back to being a defensive sieve, allowing constant incursions on the break.
Loser: Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid are currently top of La Liga by three points, their defensive solidity and Barcelona’s growing pains under Quique Setién gave them a great chance to win both that and the Copa del Rey. Two of the Copa semi-finalists were Granada and Mirandes, teams that Los Blancos will feel confident in destroying. And in the Champions League they drew Manchester City, a brilliant but beatable opponent, and they have Zinedine Zidane at the helm; a manager who has never not won the Champions League.
Basically, Madrid’s first-ever Treble was a realistic goal for them this season. At the very least their first domestic double since 1989. All Zidane had to do was see his men past Real Sociedad at home, but Zidane’s team selections backfired in a big bad way and although he adjusted fairly well to see his side turn 1-4 into 3-4 at the death, the late comeback owes more to La Real removing Isak and Odegaard (their two best players) with 20 minutes remaining than anything Zidane did. And so Madrid’s Treble dream lies in tatters.