Real Madrid progressed to the Copa del Rey semi finals with a 3-1, and 7-3 aggregate victory, seeing past a spirited Girona side in the second leg of their quarter final tie.
Girona started the match on the front foot and were only denied the perfect start by the frame of Keylor Navas’ goal in the second minute. Alex Granell’s free kick from the right evaded everyone, including Navas, only to crash off the post and fall for Paik Seung-Ho, who saw his shot inside the box blocked to safety.
A couple of snap shots from Madrid followed as they grew into the game, yet it was Girona who had the next big opportunity following a swift counter attack on 13 minutes. The ball was stolen in midfield, allowing Anthony Lozano a one-on-one with Raphael Varane, only to run straight at the Frenchman when he should have squared to the unmarked Cristhian Stuani.
With much of the game being played in the Girona half since that opportunity, Santiago Solari’s men took the lead their patient play warranted in the 27th minute. Karim Benzema drove into the Girona box unchallenged, played a neat one-two with Dani Carvajal, giving him the space to curl a left footed shot past Gorka Iraizoz.
The home side nearly reduced Madrid’s lead back to two goals less than a minute later as Navas’ slight touch took Lozano’s cross just beyond the reach of the onrushing Stuani. Chances continued to come for both sides as beautiful link up play between Vinicius and Marcelo resulted in the latter’s shot being parried by Iraizoz, with Navas equal to Granell’s at the other end.
If Girona didn’t already have a mountain to climb, the game was surely put beyond their reach two minutes before half time. Vinicius drove into the box and laid the ball off for Benzema, with the Frenchman taking his time to pick his spot and curl a delightful low finish in off Iraizoz’s far post.
Madrid lowered their tempo slightly in the second half, looking to preserve energy ahead of their return to La Liga action against Alaves on Sunday. This was epitomised by Solari’s decision to withdraw Benzema in the 59th minute, with substitute Marco Asensio nearly applying the assist for the visitor’s third minutes later. The sub’s low drive was palmed away by Iraizoz, with Vazquez failing to apply to finishing touch, instead crashing the rebound against the upright.
Bale was introduced in place of the impressive Vinicius, but the Welshman was powerless to prevent Girona grabbing a 71st minute consolation their endeavour deserved. A swift counter attack down the right ended with Pedro Porro applying the finishing touch to slot the ball through the onrushing Navas’ legs.
With Eusebio Sacristán’s side pushing for an unlikely comeback, Marcos Llorente struck a sucker-punch to extinguish any faint Girona hopes. Picking the ball up in midfield, the 24-year-old ran at goal, striking a fine low drive across goal and into the far corner to restore Los Blancos’ four goal aggregate advantage.
Both sides pushed for another goal but none were forthcoming as Madrid booked their place in the Copa del Rey semi finals with relative ease.
Key Talking Point
Solari’s men have been on somewhat of a resurgence in La Liga following a poor start to the season, losing just once in their last ten, collecting 26 points from a possible 30. That said, they trail league leaders Barcelona by ten points and realistically stand no chance of claiming the title this campaign.
The Copa del Rey offers their best chance of silverware this term, and while they will surely need to overcome Barcelona along the way, they will have to do that and more to lift their fourth consecutive Champions League this season. Ajax present a winnable round of 16 tie but Los Blancos will fancy their chances of lifting the trophy they haven’t won since 2014.
Unlike their opponents, Madrid were clinical in front of goal at the Estadi Montilivi, but the Madrid boss will be concerned by the number of chances his team allowed La Liga’s 14th place side to create. In order to claim silverware in his first season at the Bernabeu, he will will need to avert his attention towards shoring up a leaky defence that has shipped in 26 goals in 21 La Liga matches.
Starting XI: Navas (8); Carvajal (7), Varane (7), Ramos (7), Marcelo (8); Ceballos (7), Llorente (7), Kroos (7); Vazquez (7), Vinicius (8), Benzema (8)
Substitutes: Asensio (7), Nacho (6), Bale (6)
Star Man – Karim Benzema
The Frenchman wrote himself into the Real Madrid history books on Thursday night, becoming the sixth highest scorer in the club’s history with his 208th and 209th goals for the club.
The 31-year-old is nearing ten years at the club and, while he has come under scrutiny at times, has consistently proven his worth under the multitude of managers he’s operated for. His tally this season has already surpassed last season’s, currently averaging around one goal every two games.
Worst Player – Sergio Ramos
The hero of the last leg for Real Madrid didn’t do much wrong during the match, yet was the unfortunate choice due to the amount of chances his back four conceded during the match. He was hauled off on the 63rd minute for Nacho, likely being spared for the club’s upcoming domestic fixtures.
Real Madrid return to La Liga action on Sunday as they host fifth place Alaves, looking to keep up the heat on bitter rivals Atletico Madrid, who they subsequently travel to face in the following match the Saturday after.
Meanwhile Girona face a Sunday trip to mid-table Eibar before hosting La Liga’s bottom club Huesca the following Sunday.