Could two bonus additions of El Clasico actually be a…(can’t type “bad”, just can’t) …an unfortunate thing for fans of the Spanish game? And not just for Madrid fans, either. I’m thinking these ludicrous, unholy thoughts because Barcelona and Real Madrid have both advanced to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey where they’ll be heavily favored to move on and face each other in the finals. Barca matches up with La Liga table bottom-dwellers Almeria, while Real Madrid gets the tougher draw in a dangerous Sevilla side. Barca actually lost the second leg of their tie against second-tier side Betis on Wednesday 3-1. It was sort-of like when Bane broke Batman’s back except that Barca had thrashed Betis 5-0 in the first leg of the tie, essentially sealing their passage through. Still, it was Barca’s first defeat in 28 matches, spanning all competitions. At least, Betis provided ominous, real-time proof of Barcelona’s humanity that may just strengthen the resolve of sides all over Europe.
Real Madrid had what appeared to be a tougher road to the semis as they’d drawn their crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid. I’m sure the intensity level in the stadiums and on the pitch was heavy and outrageous, but Real Madrid put both matches away with surprising ease. I don’t recall Atletico threatening or creating much at all yesterday and by the second-half the relatively wide talent gap between the two sides became more and more apparent, even though Real only scored once in securing the victory. It has to be galling and infuriating to this loaded Madrid side that in all likelihood the only team that legitimately stands in their way, both domestically and abroad, is their hated rivals: Barcelona. They look to be that good. Having written that, I still think Sevilla will present an interesting challenge (but, then again, I thought Atletico would as well). I’m sad that the Villarreal/Sevilla tie wasn’t broadcast in my part of the world because they are 2 of the most entertaining sides I’ve seen in La Liga and the Europa League this year.
So to recap – why would a bonus version of El Clasico in the Copa del Rey finals be unfortunate? Only because it seems so inevitable at the moment. One of the many things I love about the Spanish game is the suspense generated by the kinetic, often beautiful, play on the pitch due to the supreme talent level on display by every side, even by those teams in the drop zone. 20th place Almeria has enough quality to draw with Real Madrid and advance to the semi-finals in the Copa del Rey. A side like Hercules has enough class to defeat Barcelona and absolutely destroy Atletico on a given day. But even with these setbacks on their respective resumes, Barcelona and Real Madrid have basically eliminated all suspense in the quest for the La Liga title this season. I thought, and still harbor extremely slim hopes, that Villarreal could challenge for the top spot and at least make it interesting, but they’re barely hanging on. I’d love to see Sevilla and/or Almeria make the Copa del Rey semi-finals interesting or, at least, suspenseful and halt the seemingly inexorable march of Barca and Madrid to the finals, furthering the already wide distance between themselves and everybody else.
Results, Copa del Rey quarterfinals: