Yesterday in double Copa del Rey upsets, Real Madrid lost to Real Sociedad 3-4 and Barcelona lost to Athletic Bilbao 0-1, eliminating the two Spanish Football giants from the revamped domestic cup competition.
Sociedad and Athletic now join two other teams that managed upsets of their own. Second division side Mirandes, who defeated Villarreal 4-2, and Granada, who defeated title-holders Valencia 2-1 earlier, became the other semifinalists. The draw, held today, had the following semifinals pairings in a home and away series: Athletic Bilbao plays Granada and Real Sociedad faces Mirandes.
Real Madrid’s loss
Real’s upset loss, which continues coach Zinedine Zidane’s streak of eventually losing in Copa competitions, was due to as much to a great performance by Sociedad as it was to a collapse by the Merengues. Real were deservedly multiple goals behind (0-3) before reacting to make the scoreline cosmetically palatable. Throughout the match, the newest edition of Zidane’s lineup simply looked as if they had never played together—which was often enough the case.
Using Alphonse Areola in goal, Eder Militao in defense, James Rodriguez in midfield, and Brahim Diaz in offense, ensured every part of the pitch was populated by a Real man who had not seen regular time let alone played with their lineup partners. Multiple defensive howlers ensued as Sociedad goals were scored from close range without opposition.
Ironically, Real Madrid-owned Martin Odegaard, on a two-year loan to Sociedad, was the man of the match. Remember Odegaard, the 15-year-old Norwegian prodigy Real Madrid’s La Fabrica, et.al., were unable to polish? Well, after bouncing around Europe at clubs that each added a bit to his shine, the now 21-year-old Odegaard is rounding into a gem. He scored and assisted and was a constant thorn in Real’s side.
By match’s end, even after watching a Sociedad player get a two-yellow red card at the 95th and despite referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz gift of an additional eight minutes of stoppage time, a resigned Zidane had to admit his side was outplayed. As true as that was, he should have also admitted his old strategies—remember them from his last stint as coach—simply don’t work. Lineup changes galore never worked before and they were a patently poor choice this time around, again.
Barca had a closer game than their archrivals and the Cules did not play poorly for stretches. But Athletic played to their potential and took care of business when the late opportunity struck. In was in the 93rd minute when a great cross reached Inaki Williams who headed true but off the head of Sergio Busquets. The ricochet fouled up Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s save attempt and sealed the Catalans’ fate.
So, now comes the Barca-upset aftermath, particularly with all of the Barca is sinking media coverage. We begin with sporting director Eric Abidal’s questioning the player’s commitment, and their support for the previous coach, which led to Ernesto Valverde’s. That is followed by Lionel Messi arguing “the players are responsible for what happens on the pitch” and yet “…heads of sports departments have to take responsibility too and above all own the decisions they make.” So, yes we have the potential for a crisis now as one of the sacrosanct factors is in play.
What really ails Barca has now changed. It is the fact that they have now gotten Messi annoyed that is troubling. Ok, yes they also have key starters and key replacement players down to injuries. But what will need doing first is to get Messi on board with whatever plan the club puts forward (are you listening, Abidal?). Then, they’ll have to hope that their key injured players return in time to have an impact on the remaining of the season.
But, Barcelona should not lose sight of the fact that they are still in the run for the UEFA Champions League and the La Liga, and whatever subsequent silverware hunt winning either competition engenders. Maybe they can take solace from the most important news about the state of affairs at the Camp Nou to come from outside Barcelona. It came from Pep Guardiola earlier today. Responding to the potential for a Messi move to Manchester City to reunite with his favorite coach, that coach made clear that he thought Messi would complete his career at Barca. “He will stay there [at Barca].” If Pep is right, and Messi can be mollified, Barca will be climbing back to its traditional perch in no time.