Copa del Rey Recap: Leganes make history and progress at the expense of a stuttering Real Madrid

Bernabeu, Madrid – “Yes we can!” was the rather hopeful and optimistic chant sung by the relatively small contingent of Leganes fans pre-match. “Yes we have!” was what they sang unexpectedly at the final whistle. The small side from southern Madrid had come to the home of the mighty Real Madrid and overturned a first-leg defeat to proceed to the semi-finals. This was not only the first time since 1994 that Real Madrid have relented a first-leg away advantage but it was the first time that Leganes have won at the Bernabeu and first time they have reached the semi-finals.

The defeat was the latest in a line of poor results for Los Blancos with Marca calling it ‘the most ridiculous night of Zidane’s reign.’ With Real now only competing in one competition – the Champions League – the pressure is certainly rising on the Frenchman. Zidane himself admitted in his post-match press conference that his job is on the line in Paris when his side take on PSG.

Leganes – who were celebrating promotion from the third division only a few seasons ago – had nothing to lose in the second-leg and they started strong. Claudio Beauvue nearly evened up the tie in the first five minutes with a right-footed free-kick that struck the post. Real were controlling most of the possession and Isco was showing his array of tricks but it was Leganes who were producing chances – Gabriel should have done better with a header off a corner kick.

A mishap between Real defenders Achraf Hakimi and Nacho allowed Javier Eraso to pounce and his right-footed strike was too powerful for Kiko Casilla and in the blink of an eye, Leganes had scored to make it 1-1 on aggregate. Real needed to react but apart from an Isco ball towards Karim Benzema that was just out of his reach, there was nothing of note from the hosts in the first-half. A shower of whistles fell from all sides of the steep Bernabeu stands – the displeasure was evident.

Real did respond early in the second-half – Benzema linked up with Isco, who ran through the Leganes defence and lifted a shot over Nereo Champagne and into the net. But the visitors – who remained confident – countered almost immediately. Just 10 minutes played in the second-half and they were back in front – unlike the header he squandered in the opening period, Gabriel converted this time by out jumping Theo Hernandez and heading past Casilla.

Zidane turned to his bench – on came Dani Carvajal, Luka Modric, and slightly later Borja Mayoral. The substitutes added more urgency to the hosts play but they resorted to crossing balls into the area with the hope of finding Benzema or Mayoral. But Leganes hung on … just about. History was within touching distance. The biggest 30 minutes of Real Madrid’s season so far had not gone their way. The referee blew his whistle, the stadium PA system boomed out the club anthem – drowning out both the boos and the celebrations of the respective supporters.

“In the last few minutes we defended as best we could,” said Asier Garitano – the Leganes manager who has worked miracles since joining Los pepineros in 2013. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we believed throughout and we’ve done it.” Real Madrid 1–2 Leganes (2–2 agg – Leganes through on away goals)

Camp Nou, Barcelona – It was a good night for Barcelona; they followed in Leganes’ footsteps by overturning a first-leg away defeat whilst also saying a fond farewell to Javier Mascherano and having a first glimpse of Philippe Coutinho playing in la Blaugrana colours. Barcelona got a goal back against Espanyol in the opening 10 minutes – Leo Messi playing a ball down the right-side to Aleix Vidal, whose cross was perfect for Luis Suarez to head in. The Uruguayan’s fine goalscoring run continuing.

The hosts doubled their lead on the night midway through the first-half when Messi took advantage of some lackadaisical Espanyol defending and fired a left-footed shot that took a deflection and wrong-footed Pau Lopez in the Espanyol goal. The tie was never over as an Espanyol away goal would have seen them through but Barcelona were just too good. A late Espanyol penalty shout and a Messi shot that hit the post added to the tension in the stadium.

The biggest ovation of the night came when Coutinho replaced Andres Iniesta – rather symbolic perhaps – and the Brazilian impressed for the 20 minutes he was on the pitch. “Coutinho danced the samba on his first night,” ran Marca. “We have a lot of hopes for him, in the sense that he can be very good for our style of play,” Ernesto Valverde said post-match. “This is just the beginning.” Barcelona 2–0 Espanyol (2–1 agg)

Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Sevilla – A win and only a win was what Atletico Madrid needed. Anything less and Diego Simeone and his players would be out of the Copa del Rey as well as the Champions League. To go to Sevilla and win is tough but to go needing to win is even harder. To concede in the opening 25 seconds doesn’t help though. The fastest goal conceded by Atletico during the 350 match Simeone era seriously dented the faint hopes of los rojiblancos. Kick-off was followed by a few passes, an intelligent run by Luis Muriel, a cross from Pablo Sarabia, a burst forward from Sergio Escudero, and bang 1-0 The tie – to all intent and purposes – over.

Although Atletico did equalise on the night through a tremendous 30-yard strike by Antoine Griezmann that looped over Sergio Rico, it wasn’t to be. Saul forced Joaquin Correa down in the Atletico penalty area and Ever Banega was ever so cool to slot the spot-kick past Miguel Angel Moya and send the Sevillistas into party mode. The handful of travelling fans from Madrid were dejected – even more so when Sarabia scored Sevilla’s third on the counter-attack with 10 minutes left to play. To compound matters a distracted Sime Vrsaljko attempted to board the Sevilla team bus after the match – “Sorry Sime, this is the one heading to the semi-finals,” was the shout. Sevilla 3–1 Atletico Madrid (5–2 agg)

Mendizorozza, Vitoria – There was Marcelino; sunk in his seat with his hands covering his eyes. A sharp intake of breath and then a gasp. “I don’t like penalty shootouts,” he later admitted, “they’re nonsense.” The night looked like it was going to be far simpler for Valencia – 0-0 on the night with the match entering the final 20 minutes the visitors were going through with a 2-1 aggregate lead. However, Munir had other ideas. He came on in the 72nd minute and moments later gave Alaves the advantage. But the visitors got an away goal of their own when substitute Santi Mina finished off a quick counter-attack.

Last year’s losing finalists were again on the verge of exiting the competition when Ruben Sobrino scored the Basque’s side second of the night from a late free-kick four minutes from time. There was life left in this contest yet. Extra-time, however, didn’t contain too much – both sides played with caution – and penalties ensued. Alfonso Pedraza, Hernan Perez, and Ruben Sobrino all missed for Alaves – two of which were saved by Jaume Domenech – which meant that Los Che went through, leaving the Estadio Mendizorozza heartbroken, but still proudly singing. Alaves 2–1 Valencia (3–3 agg – Valencia win on penalties)

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Oliver Miller
European Football Writer - currently specialising in La Liga @oliver_miller