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It had been a hell of a week in Spain before both Barcelona and Real Madrid got bounced from the Copa del Rey quarterfinals on Thursday. After Real Madrid lost to Real Sociedad 4-3 – in a game Los Blancos trailed 3-0 and 4-1 — and Barcelona lost 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao a few hours later, the Copa is the focus of this piece.
Raise your hand if you thought the four semifinalists would be 11th-place (in Spain’s second tier!!) Mirandés, and the teams in eighth through 10th place in La Liga (Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao and Granada, in that order).
What follows is my best effort at breaking down Thursday’s chaos, even though Athletic hero Iñaki Williams already put it best.
— IÑAKI WILLIAMS (@Williaaams45) February 6, 2020
Let’s start with third-place Getafe (+104) hosting fifth-place Valencia (+295) at 10 a.m. Eastern on Saturday.
Getafe was widely expected to fade from relevance after nearly securing a spot in this year’s UCL – they finished two points out of fourth last year. Instead, they’re sitting pretty UCL-wise after winning their last three in a row, all shutouts. With Getafe tied on points with Sevilla (39 apiece), followed closely by Valencia (37), this one’s pivotal.
Elsewhere in La Liga, both RM and Barça have sneaky-tough road tests. Real Madrid (-182) is at 11th-place Osasuna (+460) on Sunday at 10 a.m., while the Catalans (-120) travel to 12th-place Real Betis (+310) Sunday at 3 p.m.
I like RM to bounce back in a big way after their wakeup call from Real Sociedad ended a 21-game streak without a loss. But I’ll believe Barcelona can handle a decent opponent on the road when I see it. What I’m saying is Real Betis at +310 sounds almost as good as Athletic Bilbao at +315 did this afternoon. There’s added intrigue for Sunday’s match-up because it marks Quique Setién’s return to his old stomping grounds.
Even by their suddenly lofty standards in this area, Barcelona is dealing with an incredible amount of drama right now. First, there’s the issue of their staggering lack of forward depth following the news that Ousmane Dembele is out the rest of the year.
And there’s also the minor matter of the Lionel Messi-Eric Abidal beef following the baffling sacking of Ernesto Valverde and hire of Setién. All eyes are on the Catalans right now, for all the wrong reasons, and even more so after the loss to Athletic Bilbao.
If this loss seemed all too familiar, it’s because it played out a lot like the Catalans’ season opener. That game also ended in a 1-0 loss at San Mamés after a stunning last-minute goal. Back in August, Barcelona could shrug off the result because it came without Lionel Messi in the lineup.
This one is harder to explain away, even if the stats show that Barcelona was probably the better team. After all, they held a 69-31 advantage in possession and piled up five shots on target to just one for Athletic. Despite those numbers, it’s hard to call this result a complete fluke. This was a rock fight featuring nine yellow cards (six by Barcelona). It seemed to have PKs written all over it until the winner from Williams.
— ESPN Deportes (@ESPNDeportes) February 6, 2020
But don’t worry, Barcelona supporters, your team remains on the “right path.”
Setien “Everything went well, except the result and being eliminated. I’m pretty satisfied with how we played. Many people look at result, but it’s about the path. And we’re going in the right direction.”
— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 6, 2020
Barcelona was not the only favorite upended on Thursday, though. The highlights below show the world of difference between what the Barcelona and RM disappointments offered in terms of entertainment.
In the first quarterfinal of the day, 21-year-old Norwegian Martin Odegaard (a RM loanee) and 20-year-old Swede Alexander Isak led Real Sociedad past a not-terribly-committed Real Madrid.
*Side note: between Odegaard, Isak and Erling Haaland, is there a region outside the traditional hotbeds hotter than Scandinavia right now??
The match wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate, as the underdogs led 4-1 before RM got goals in the 81st (Rodrygo) and 93rd (Nacho).
RM’s loss ends a lengthy stretch without a loss, but this L comes with an asterisk. Zinedine Zidane rested Thibaut Courtois, Gareth Bale (if we still call Zidane leaving out the Welshman “resting him”), Casemiro, Ferland Mendy and Raphael Varane, among others. In fact, he made seven (!) changes from the squad that took on Atleti last weekend. Full credit, though, to Real Sociedad for making Los Blancos pay.
Zidane’s team showed plenty of fight late, but the lineup indicated he was either overconfident in his subs or OK with bowing out of this tournament. If it was the latter, I get it. There are probably stranger moves you could make than prioritizing La Liga and the Champions League.
More importantly, Real Sociedad made another statement, exposing an RM back line that sorely missed Mendy and Varane. It’s been a promising season for Odegaard and Co., even if they’ve lost three of their last four in La Liga. Despite that skid, they’re just five points out of the all-important fourth-place spot.
Keep an eye on this young, high-octane (their 37 goals through 22 games trail only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal) team. In addition to being in the mix to qualify for the Champions League in ’20-21 in Odegaard and Isak, they boast two of the most must-see young players in Europe. Safe to say they’re a good bet to make the next edition of the HPS League Pass rankings.