Barcelona are all but mathematically sure of a quarter final meeting with either Atlético Madrid or Real Madrid after they thrashed Elche 5-0 on Thursday evening. The crowd were restless after the weekend defeat at Real Sociedad and a reported split between Messi and Luis Enrique, and the coach decided to put out his full strength attacking line-up despite the upcoming league game against Atlético on Sunday. Even so it took them some time to get going, Messi bringing a couple of early saves out of Tyton and Neymar lobbing a shot just wide before Luis Suárez set up Neymar for the opener with ten minutes to go to the break. That opened the floodgates though, Luis Suárez turning past his marker to pick up a Jordi Alba through ball and score the second, and Messi having a strike incorrectly ruled out for offside before he converted a penalty after Enzo Roco brought down Neymar in the area shortly before half time. Some ten minutes after the interval Jordi Alba collected Messi’s through ball to make it four, and Neymar completed the scoring five minutes later, collecting Messi’s square pass and firing in a shot which took a slight deflection off Fragapane before entering the net off the crossbar.
The fact that the big three have been paired together in one quarter of the draw opens up a big opportunity for the rest, and Sevilla are one of the favourties to make it through to the final this year. Unai Emery’s side moved closer to a quarter final tie with either Valencia or Espanyol after a 1-2 victory at regional rivals Granada earlier in the evening, although they will rue the fact that they had the chance to clock up a much bigger result. Deulofeu saw his shot deflected on to the bar by Mainz before he opened the scoring on the half hour mark, turning the ball past Roberto after Gameiro’s shot came back off the post. Gameiro himself scored the second at the start of the second half after substitute Suleyman could only head Banega’s free kick into his path, and Iago Aspas wasted three good chances after that to extend the lead. However with the game in injury time new signing Lass fired a free kick through a gap in the defensive wall to give the hosts an outside hope of making it through to the next round. (08.01.15)
Defending champions Real Madrid are close to being knocked out of the cup after they lost 2-0 to city rivals Atlético Madrid on Wednesday! It was another repeat of last season’s Champions League final, although there were changes to both sides in the light of the intense programme coming up, Ancelotti leaving Ronaldo on the bench at the start and Fernando Torres drafted into the starting line-up after rejoining the club a few days ago. With less than a minute on the clock Oblak had to push out a Ramos header following a corner, and soon afterwards Bale headed a James free kick into the net only for the strike to be ruled out for offside. Griezmann tested Keylor Navas and then got past Varane only for the defender to make a brilliant recovery, but Oblak had to save again from Benzema a few minutes later, and Bale fired shots wide either side of half time. A few minutes into the second half however Atleti were awarded a penalty when Ramos pulled down Raúl García in the area, and the midfielder stepped up to fire the spot-kick past Navas. And with a quarter of an hour to go José María Giménez got above the defence to head Gabi’s corner across the keeper from the near post. Oblak still had to keep out a long shot from Kroos after that, but for the third time in a row Simeone’s side had beaten the old rival, something which had not happened in 65 years. The return leg in the Bernabeu stadium is still to come though next Thursday, with the winners to face Barcelona, assuming of course that they get through their tie against Elche.
That means that only one of the big three can make it to the final, leaving one place for the teams in the other half of the draw. With no European commitments Valencia must fancy their chances, and they beat Espanyol 2-1 to take a slight advantage into the return match. Gayà opened the scoring for the Ches with an angled shot from left of the area after a defender could only head Cancelo’s cross over to him, and Dani Parejo fired a free kick just wide a few minutes later. Yoel had to be on his toes though to keep out Víctor Alvarez and Lucas Vázquez before the interval, and with just over an hour gone Stuani picked up a through ball from Sergio García and cut past a defender to equalize. Parejo had a headed goal disallowed for offside and Lucas brought another good save out of Yoel, but with a draw seemingly on the cards Paco Alcácer fell under a challenge from keeper Pau López, and Negredo fired home the resulting penalty kick to give his side the win.
Elsewhere Villarreal have the edge over Real Sociedad after they beat David Moyes’s side 1-0. The visitors clearly turned up looking for the draw, and they hardly managed a shot at goal throughout the ninety minutes. Gerard Moreno brought a good save out of Zubikarai early on, and brothers Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos fired shots wide before the break. With an hour gone Marcelino turned to Bruno and Cheryshev though, the former testing the keeper with a couple of free kicks and then slotting the ball through for the Russian flanker to steer an angled shot wide of the keeper with twenty minutes to go for what was to prove the only goal of the match.
The other tie on Wednesday between Almería and Getafe is in the balance after the first leg ended 1-1. The visitors had the better of the opening minutes, Hinestroza rounding keeper Julián and shooting wide before Verza headed a wide Pedro León free kick over his own keeper to give the Madrid based side the lead. Julián had to save from Juan Rodríguez, and Pedro León and Alvaro Vázquez both went close before the break, but with an hour on the clock Verza made up for his mistake, levelling it from the penalty spot after Roberto Lago and Velázquez brought down youngster Dani Romera in the area. A good result though for Quique Sánchez Flores in his first game in charge after taking over from Cosmin Contra, and his team are on track for a quarter final tie against Villarreal or Real Sociedad. (07.01.15)
Athletic Bilbao took a big step towards a place in the quarter finals when they beat Celta 2-4 on Tuesday evening. San José and Aduríz twice put the Basque side ahead from Susaeta free kicks, the first with a shot from close up after Aduríz headed the ball across from the left, and the second with a header on the quarter hour mark after Etxeita headed the ball across from the right. Alex López levelled it the first time though after Augusto Fernández hooked across a long throw-in, and Charles made it all square again shortly after the break with a header past Herrerín after Balenziaga only succeeded in heading a corner back into the box. With an hour gone however San José intercepted a poor clearance and put Susaeta through for him to drill a low shot wide of Rubén Blanco, and ten minutes later the locals were left with ten men when David Costas was sent off after picking up a second booking for stopping a De Marcos advance with his arm. They held on though until three minutes from the end, when Cabral grabbed Aduríz by the neck in the area, and the striker stepped up to fire home his second of the evening from the resulting penalty.
The second leg takes place next week, and whoever gets through will meet the winners of the tie between Málaga and Levante. Right now though the Andalusians are favourites to do so after they beat the Valencia based team 2-0 later in the evening. Juanpi opening the scoring on the quarter hour mark with an impressive shot after Luis Alberto and Samuel combined to set him up, and Horta and Luis Alberto went close as the locals dominated the early minutes. Ochoa had to make important saves though from Martins and Gavilán, and Xumetra struck a shot just wide of the far post as the visitors got back in the game. That only lasted a few minutes however, Horta curling a shot wide and Luis Alberto hitting the post before the break, and after the restart Juanmi poked a shot just wide of the upright. A few minutes later Jesús just managed to get a hand to a shot by Samu Castillejo to keep his team in it, but with twelve minutes to go Luis Alberto put Horta through for him to lob the ball over the keeper and turn a shot into the net. (06.01.15)