Los Nervionenses meet los Blancos in the first of the Copa semi-finals...
The Copa del Rey is now approaching boiling point, and Wednesday night’s clash between Sevilla and Real Madrid arguably provides the most mouth-watering encounter to date. Los Nervionenses are the defending champions, while los Blancos are attempting to challenge Barcelona’s dominance of the domestic game and are desperate for any title to boost morale and appease fans after last term’s trophyless campaign.
Champions League football was the target of the Andalucians at the beginning of the campaign, but having dropped well off the pace, they will have to reassess their goals. Reaching the Europa League will certainly be considered attainable, and for Sevilla, the Copa provides the most direct route into the continent’s second tier competition.
Despite sacking coach Antonio Alvarez earlier this term, the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan side have not kicked on as they would have liked. A poor run of form immediately before Christmas has been alleviated somewhat by recent positive performances, including a 4-1 win over Levante on Saturday night, which have breathed new life into los Rojiblancos.
“We have to try to maintain that defensive intensity because if we score and defend well it can guarantee success,” Manzano explained after the weekend’s emphatic victory.
While other sides have approached the Copa with a cool attitude, the former Mallorca coach confirmed that his side are eager to succeed, stating: “The team will give their best to get a good result against Madrid, and we are desperate to get through to the final.”
This season has been riddled with disappointment for Sevilla to date; now provides the conquerors of Barcelona last term with another shot at glory this.
Going For Gold
The last major title lifted by Real Madrid came in season 2007-08, when they lifted the Primera Division crown, but since then they’ve been forced to watch frustrated as Barcelona have dominated the Spanish game. Attempting to redress the balance, Jose Mourinho is desperate for his side to claim any title in order to give fans of los Blancos some joy.
Even in the Copa del Rey, the capital side have attacked their matches with 100 per cent concentration, and the Portuguese coach even made changes at the weekend to allow some of his star players to rest their legs in preparation for what promises to be a difficult match in Sevilla.
Los Blancos have dropped four points off the pace of Barcelona in the Primera Division, but kept in the same ballpark as la Blaugrana with a difficult victory over Mallorca at the weekend. A smart finish from Karim Benzema gave the hosts a 1-0 victory on Sunday night, though the victory could have been made more comfortable had chances been taken.
“We did not play well and so we had difficulties,” Ricardo Carvalho told the press after the weekend’s narrow success. “The main thing was to win after a draw against Almeria but we have to play better.
“We must stay focused on playing better. We know that for Madrid it is important to win trophies.”
Having suffered an embarrassing exit last season against Alcorcon, los Blancos are clearly aiming to make it up to their fans by reaching their first domestic cup final since 2004.
Gregorio Manzano has named the same 18 players who featured at the weekend in his squad and has added Alexis and Lautaro Acosta to his panel. Ivica Dragutinovic is yet to return, though he is training fully now.
Sami Khedira has been named in a 23-man panel for this fixture. Pepe, Jerzy Dudek and Gonzalo Higuain have all been ruled out because of injury.
Emmanuel Adebayor signed for the club on Tuesday evening, though this match comes too soon for him.