Real Madrid will welcome Eusebio Sacristan’s Girona outfit to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie on Thursday.
Real Madrid will be looking to take a step towards the final four of the Copa del Rey, when they face off against giant-killers Girona in the first leg of their quarter-finals at home this week.
The reigning European champions made it to this stage of the competition after getting the better of Leganes over two legs. Real Madrid were beaten 1-0 by the minnows in the second leg, but a first leg victory by a 3-0 margin at home ensured safe passage on aggregate scoreline.
Following the defeat to Leganes, Santiago Solari’s men bounced back with a solid display in a 2-0 win against Sevilla in La Liga. And, they will be hoping to carry that momentum into the midweek clash and inch closer to the semi-finals with a win.
Girona, on the other hand, qualified for the final eight after they edged past Real’s local rivals Atletico Madrid in the last round. Having held Los Rojiblancos to a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg, Eusebio Sacristan’s men played out a pulsating 3-3 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano to seal progression on the away goal rule.
Girona were defeated 3-2 by Real Betis in another high-scoring encounter this past weekend in La Liga. While they may go into the game on the back of a defeat, they will draw confidence from the fact they have already dumped one big team from Madrid out of the competition and will be aiming to repeat their feat against Los Blancos as well.
Team News & Tactics
There is some good news on the injury front for Real Madrid as midfielders Toni Kroos and Marcos Llorente are fit again and are back in contention for selection, along with summer signing Mariano Diaz. Attackers Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale are also nearing a return, but are unlikely to be involved on Thursday. Keylor Navas remains out.
Thibaut Courtois, who only recently returned from injury, should continue in goal for the home team. Alvaro Odriozola, who has played every minute of domestic cup football this term, should feature at right-back, while there is also likely to be a recall for Marcelo at left-back. Utility man Nacho is set to pair up with Raphael Varane at the heart of the defence.
Despite Llorente’s return to fitness, Casemiro is likely to get the nod as the holding midfielder for Real Madrid. The fit-again Kroos should walk back into the starting XI, along with Isco, who has been struggling for game time under the new manager.
New signing Brahim Diaz could get a run out from the kick off out on the right flank for Real, while Vinicius Junior should hold on to his spot on the left wing. Spearheading the attack for the Merengues will once again be Karim Benzema.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Odriozola, Varane, Nacho, Marcelo; Kroos, Casemiro, Isco; Diaz, Benzema, Vinicius
The visitors will be able to call upon star striker Cristhian Stuani, who was suspended for the weekend game against Real Betis. However, Johan Mojica, Aday and Carles Planas remain sidelined with injuries.
Eusebio is expected to set his team up in a 3-5-2 formation against the European champions, with seasoned campaigner Gorka Iraizoz set to start between the woodwork ahead of Bono, as has been the case for cup competitions.
The three-man backline for the visiting team is likely to comprise of Jonas Ramalho, Bernardo Espinosa and former Barcelona defender Marc Muniesa. Pedro Porro should slot in as the right-sided wing-back, while 19-year-old Valery Fernandez will take up the spot on the opposite flank.
On-loan Manchester City midfielder Douglas Luiz should come back into the starting XI, with Pere Pons set to drop out to the bench. The Brazilian is likely to be partnered by fellow Manchester City loanee Aleix Garcia and club captain Alex Granell, who did not start in the weekend clash against Betis.
Stuani, who is the leading scorer for Girona with 13 strikes to his name, will return in attack. He is likely to be partnered with Anthony Lozano, meaning Seydou Doumbia, who has scored in both of his last two appearances, will feature on the bench.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Iraizoz; Ramalho, Espinosa, Muniesa; Porro, Luiz, Granell, Garcia, Fernandez; Stuani, Lozano
- Thursday’s game at the Bernabeu will be just the fourth time Real Madrid and Girona will battle against each other. Girona won the first encounter, while the Merengues trumped in the other two.
- The three matches between the two sides have produced 17 goals and no clean sheets, with the most recent clash being a 4-1 Real Madrid win at Estadio Montilivi in August.
- Girona have won just one of their four Copa del Rey encounters this season (D3) – a 2-1 victory over Alaves at home in the Round of 32 stage back in December.
- Real Madrid have won the Copa del Rey on 19 occasions, but have lifted the trophy just twice since 1993, with their latest triumph coming in 2014.
- Real Madrid have seen five different goalscorers at home in the Copa del Rey this season – Sergio Ramos, Isco, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Jr.
Player to Watch
The 18-year-old Brazilian wonderkid has been the standout player for Real Madrid in recent matches, when the rest of the team has been struggling to make much of an impact. Both of Vinicius’ goals this season have come in the Copa del Rey, against Melilla and Leganes in the previous rounds, while four of his seven assists have also come in the cup competition.
The teenager was Real Madrid’s best player in the defeat to Leganes last week and put up a strong showing in the win against Sevilla this past weekend as well, despite not getting himself on the scoresheet. Expect him to be Los Blancos’ chief attacking threat once again, when they take the field to face Girona on Thursday night.
Real Madrid 2-1 Girona
Real Madrid have been extremely inconsistent this season and their home form has also been a bit dodgy. However, following their win against Sevilla, they should come into the game with boosted morale.
Girona, on the other hand, have won just one of their last ten fixtures across all competitions (D6 L3). But, during that period they have managed to hold Atletico Madrid to draws on three separate occasions, indicating that they will make life difficult for Real at home.
It will be anything but straightforward for Los Blancos on Thursday night, but their superior quality should help them see out a narrow win against Girona and go into the second leg with a slight advantage.