Real Madrid will be aiming to complete their safe passage through to the Copa del Rey semi-finals when they travel to the Montilivi to face Girona.
Three of the four Copa del Rey semi-finalists have been identified after three fiery quarter-final second leg ties. The fourth of final second leg fixture will be played in Catalonia, where Girona will be playing hosts to Real Madrid, who hold a two-goal lead from last week’s first leg at the Bernabeu.
Girona’s form has skydived over the last couple of months, with Eusebio Sacristan’s men failing to win each of their last ten games across all competitions. The slide in form has been palpable in their drop down the La Liga table, where they sit just three points outside the relegation zone.
It has been evident in Copa del Rey as well, wherein the Blanquivermells have won just one of the five games they have played thus far. Real Madrid, on the other hand, are starting to show signs of improvement after a forgettable start to 2019.
Los Blancos have now won each of their last three games, a run of results that has particularly seen them climb up to third on the La Liga table. In the cup competition, Santiago Solari’s men are now on the cusp of returning to the semi-finals for the first time since 2014.
The first leg, as iterated earlier, saw Real Madrid triumph, with the Merengues beating Girona 4-2, although the result has given the hosts two crucial away goals. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Copa del Rey encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Eusebio Sacristan does not have many injury troubles on his hands, with the left-back slot the only major area of concern for him. Johan Mojica (ACL rupture), Aday (foot) and Carles Plana (hamstring) are all out for the foreseeable future, which should mean this month’s signing Raul Garcia gets another start as the left wing-back.
Meanwhile, Sacristan is likely to make plenty of rotations, having seemed to have somewhat given up on success in the Copa del Rey. While some of the regulars ought to start, Thursday’s starting lineup will largely comprise of fringe players and promoted youngsters from Girona B.
One such promoted youth player has been quite heavily involved of late – Valery Fernandez. The 19-year-old should start against Real Madrid as well, albeit as the right wing-back. The back-three should see ever present 29-year-old Bernardo Espinosa start, considering he is suspended for the next league game against Eibar, with Marc Muniesa and Jonas Ramalho being his partners.
Up ahead in midfield, South Korean prospect Seung-ho Paik is likely to get another chance to impress, having featured three times in the Copa del Rey this season. His partner in the middle of the park is likely to be Manchester City loanee Douglas Luiz.
The attacking trio will have Anthony Lozano and Seydou Doumbia trying to impress the Girona boss, so as to stake claim for a regular role in the league games, while top scorer Christhian Stuani should be rested again. The lineup is expected to be completed by Cameroonian forward Kevin Soni, who will make his third appearance of the season.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Iraizoz; Ramalho, Bernardo, Muniesa; Fernandez, Paik, Douglas Luiz, Raul Garcia; Soni, Lozano; Doumbia
Santiago Solari has an almost clean bill of health to boast of, with Jesus Vallejo the only player who is unavailable for the trip to Girona, owing to his ongoing recovery from a thigh injury. Sergio Ramos, who went off against Espanyol with a minor knee injury, is fit and available.
But, the Real Madrid captain is likely to be rested, with Raphael Varane, who is suspended for the visit of Alaves this weekend, starting in his stead this time in the Copa del Rey. Alongside the World Cup winner, Javi Sanchez is likely to get another chance to impress.
Keylor Navas has returned to full fitness, meaning he should take up his customary place in the Real Madrid goal for the cup tie. Another player who is an ever present during Copa del Rey fixtures, whenever available, is Alvaro Odriozola, who should be the right-back against Girona, with Marcelo lining up on the opposite flank.
In midfield, the creative duo of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos will likely be rested. The onus to make things happen in the middle of the park will thus, fall upon Dani Ceballos and Federico Valverde, while Marcos Llorente is set to receive his first start since recovering from his injury.
The attack should have a similar pattern of returning players, with Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Mariano Diaz all starting for the first time since recovering from their respective injuries.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Navas; Odriozola, Varane, Sanchez, Marcelo; Valverde, Llorente, Ceballos; Bale, Benzema, Asensio
- After being victorious in their first meeting with Real Madrid, Girona have lost each of the last three games between the two sides, conceding at least four goals in every match.
- Real Madrid are the most prolific side in the Copa del Rey this season, having found the back of the net 17 times in 5 games, at an average of 3.4 goals per match.
- Girona are on a run of ten games without a win (D5 L5), with their last success coming against Alaves in the cup nearly two months ago.
- Real Madrid have conceded in each of their last five away day trips, although they have scored at least two goals in four of these games as well.
- Alvaro Odriozola and Vinicius Jr. have provided the most assists in the Copa del Rey this season (four apiece).
Player to Watch
After a promising start to the 2018-19 campaign, a pattern similar to recent seasons has ensued for Gareth Bale. Not only did the Welshman go through a dip in form, his frustrations were further inflated by four different spells on the sidelines over the course of the season, the latest owing to a calf injury.
Now back to full fitness, Bale will be raring to go and prove himself as a worthy successor to Cristiano Ronaldo, as far as being the attacking leader is concerned. The task at hand is surely not an easy one, however, with Vinicius Jr. rising to the occasion in his absence.
But, Bale can set the record straight with a strong showing against Girona. If his cameo performance against Espanyol last weekend is anything to go by, the 29-year-old is in the mood to do exactly that.
Girona 1-3 Real Madrid
Girona might have been on a poor run of results lately. But, scoring goals is one thing that they have not forgotten, having found the back of the net in seven of their last eight games. But, with Eusebio Sacristan set to rotate his side on Thursday, the gulf in class might be widened further.
Santiago Solari will make plenty of shuffles as well. But, the rotated players are those who have been tried and tested at the topmost level, and have a point or two to prove. But, Real Madrid’s vulnerabilities at the back should render the second leg as open an affair as the first leg last week.
The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Los Blancos, which should see them make it to the Copa del Rey semi-finals with a comfortable aggregate scoreline of 7-3.