After what seemed like years of monotony in a competition which strongly favoured the biggest teams in Spain, the Copa del Rey has enjoyed plenty of surprises this season. However, changes implemented ahead of the current campaign have brought much more excitement in earlier rounds, which has also greatly benefitted the smaller clubs.
The new format hasn’t sat well with bigger clubs
As we continue to cover the latest in Spanish and international football, There’s no doubt that throughout the course of the competition and under the new format, bigger teams have found games much tougher than expected, while minnows have relished the opportunity to test themselves against some of the biggest names. What’s more, fans of smaller teams have enjoyed rare opportunities to see big-name players appearing at their local football grounds.
Now that we’ve reached the semi-finals, there’s no Real Madrid or Barcelona, no Atlético Madrid and no Valencia, who lifted the trophy last season. Instead, we have a wide-open competition. After the first legs, it has Real Sociedad as 21/20 outright favourites according to Betway, with Athletic Bilbao at 5/4. Meanwhile, Granada are priced at 8/1 and humble CD Mirandés are surprise contenders at 16/1 odds. But how did it come to this?
Giant-killers in the early rounds
Despite struggling being on the brink of closure in recent years, Segunda B4 side Real Jaén eliminated LaLiga outfit Alavés in the First Round, then pushed Levante to their limits in the Second Round, before succumbing to defeat via a penalty shoot-out. Meanwhile, despite being a surprise package in LaLiga over the last two seasons, Madrid side Getafe were knocked out in the First Round by humble Badalona of the third tier.
🚨 ¡¡¡Primera GRAN SORPRESA en la eliminatoria copera!!!
El Real Jaén, que milita en Tercera División, supera a todo un Primera para pasar de ronda.
— RFEF (@rfef) December 17, 2019
Numerous LaLiga 2 sides also suffered against their lower-league opponents. By the Round of 32 there were still eight clubs from the third tier involved and plenty more upsets. Particular highlights were Atlético Madrid losing in extra-time against third-tier Cultural Leonesa, while Badajoz from the same level ousted Eibar.
More cup upsets in the latter stages
As we reached the Round of 16 there were just two third-tier sides left in the Copa del Rey, although they didn’t depart without a fight. Cultural Leonesa pushed Valencia to their limits, only bowing out on penalties in the end. Likewise, Badajoz took Granada to extra-time before they conceded defeat. The fairy tale cup run also continued for LaLiga 2 outfit Mirandés, who stunned Sevilla with a 3-1 victory at their modest Anduva ground.
Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid were expected to dominate from the Quarter-Finals onwards, but they were both in for a surprise. Real Madrid were eliminated in a thrilling 3-4 defeat at the Santiago Bernabéu by Real Sociedad, while Barcelona continued to be exposed defensively and were narrowly beaten 1-0 at San Mamés by Athletic Bilbao.
As Odegaard and Isak dazzled under the lights
— MARCA in English (@MARCAinENGLISH) February 6, 2020
Meanwhile, cup holders Valencia were sent packing by Granada, with Roberto Soldado scoring a last-minute penalty to dispense with his former club. Mirandés continued to amaze too, this time thumping Villarreal 4-2. This meant that every team hailing from towns and cities in the Valencian Community were now gone, following those from the Murcia Region that had fallen in earlier rounds.
Semi-finals are wide open
The draw for the semi-finals brought more interest and particularly for the two great Basque sides, who remained apart. Athletic Bilbao were drawn against Granada, while Real Sociedad were drawn against the biggest surprise team of the competition thus far, Mirandés. When the draw was made, the RFEF also rubber-stamped a deal with the regional government of Andalucía, with the impressive La Cartuja stadium in Seville chosen to host the Copa del Rey final for the next four seasons.
— AS English (@English_AS) February 4, 2020
In the first of the two games, Iker Muniain scored the only goal Athletic Bilbao edged a 1-0 first-leg victory against Granada, as the visitors resisted a constant onslaught of attacking by the home side. In the second game, Real Sociedad secured a narrow 2-1 win against Mirandés, with goals from Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Odegaard. However, the away goal by Matheus Aiás gave the visiting minnows a vital lifeline.
Ahead of the second legs, both ties are wide open and any of the four could still progress to the final at La Cartuja. Mirandés have nothing to lose when they look to make a comeback against Real Sociedad at home, while the same applies for Granada, who never expected to get this far and will fight to the death against Athletic Bilbao at Nuevo Los Cármenes.
Mirandés host Real Sociedad on Wednesday 4th March at 21:00 and Granada take on Athletic Bilbao on Thursday 5th March at 21:00. Both games should be thrilling encounters and there’s every chance of yet more surprises, in what has been a fascinating Copa del Rey this season.