It’s been a big few days in the life of Real Madrid, and not happy ones. After being embarrassed 5-0 in El Clasico by Barcelona at Camp Nou on Sunday, Julen Lopetegui paid the price with his job.
As such, their Copa del Rey campaign, which begins rather unusually in North Africa, will be overseen by ‘B’ team boss Santi Solari.
His role can only be to steady what is a rocking ship. Madrid have racked up a string of unwanted statistics this season as they have lost three league games for the first time in more than a decade, while they have also endured the club’s second-worst scoreless run ever.
Third-tier Mellila, who are based in a North African enclave that borders Morocco, have never been beyond the last 32 of the Copa del Rey, but against a Madrid side that is clearly suffering, they will have one eye on an upset.
|Game||Melilla vs Real Madrid|
|Date||Wednesday, October 31|
|Time||6:30pm GMT / 2:30pm ET|
TV Channel, Live Stream & How To Watch
In the United States (US), the game can be streamed live on ESPN+.
|US TV channel||Online stream|
In the United Kingdom (UK), the game will not be broadcast live.
|UK TV channel||Online stream|
Squads & Team News
|Defenders||Aguza, Chakla, Richi, Mahanan, Torres, Carrion, Pepe Romero|
|Midfielders||Menudo, Ortega, Lolo Garrido, Alfonso, Otegui, Martinez|
|Forwards||Ruano, Amar, Qasmi, Oscar Garcia, Aznar, Martin|
After a scoreless draw against Jumilla in the league on Sunday, a handful of changes are expected in the Melilla squad.
Attacker Nacho Aznar is missing with knee ligament damage.
Former Paris Saint-Germain youth product Yacine Qasmi, who has five goals for the season, is the club’s top scorer and will lead the line.
Melilla XI: Barrio, Pepe, Richi, Aguza, Torres, Ortega, Garrido, García, Otegui, Ruano; Qasmi.
|Position||Real Madrid squad|
|Goalkeepers||Navas, Casilla, Courtois|
|Defenders||Sergio Ramos, Nacho, Odriozola, Reguilon, De La Fuente, Javi Sanchez|
|Midfielders||Casemiro, Valverde, Llorente, Asensio, Ceballos, Feuillassier|
|Forwards||Benzema, Lucas Vazquez, Cristo, Vinicius Jr.|
In the wake of Sunday’s defeat and the sacking of Lopetegui, Solari has left out Madrid’s biggest players for the trip to North Africa. Gareth Bale and Luka Modric are among those who did not make the trip.
Injury problems hamper his selection, too, with Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane all missing from the defence. Moreover, Mariano Diaz will not get the chance to make his mark in a competition he has enjoyed in the past because of a muscular problem.
Vinicius Junior, however, is set to make his first start.
Real Madrid XI: Navas, Odriozola, Javi Sánchez, Ramos, Reguilón, Ceballos, Llorente, Asensio, Lucas, Benzema, Vinicius
Betting & Match Odds
Real Madrid are big 1/10 favourites to win the game according to bet365 . Melilla can be backed at 20/1, while the draw is priced at 8/1.
Focusing on Wednesday’s Copa del Rey match with Melilla promises to be one of the biggest challenges facing Real Madrid.
Caught between licking their wounds after Sunday’s harsh defeat against Barcelona and the thoughts of who their next head coach might be - Antonio Conte, Roberto Martinez and Mauricio Pochettino are among the names most heavily linked with the role - Solari finds himself in a no-win situation against opponents his side are expected to sweep effortlessly past.
And as if the Argentine did not need any further pressure on his shoulders, he finds himself being compared to Zinedine Zidane, who also turned out as a player for Los Blancos before coaching their ‘B’ team and stepping up to the first team in the midst of a crisis. Zidane, though, proved an incredible success, winning three Champions League titles in succession before stepping down in the summer.
Solari, understandably, has been eager to play down such comparisons.
“He’s an all-time great and we’ll leave it at that,” he said. “You can’t compare yourself to him.”
His goal for the first-leg encounter is simple.
“The idea is to go to Melilla and play with real courage and pride. I’m here to win matches, it’s that simple,” he said.
While Madrid are typically a club that demands a flourish with their victories, such is their torment at present, any type of win will do.
If he holds any ambition to remain in charge for the second leg on December 5, victory is essential.