It’s been a decade since Real Madrid and Barcelona both failed to reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals. Their fall – one after the other on Thursday night – has been taken very differently by the two clubs.
Marcelo and Zinedine Zidane are carrying the can for Real Madrid’s exit. The Brazilian ‘is not in the right state to be a first-choice starter’ according to Diario AS.
They will find few Madrid fans who disagree with them on that point.
For Zidane it’s more gentle criticism for going into a cup quarter-final without five of his best back six. He could do nothing about the absence of the injured Dani Carvajal but it was hard to justify also leaving out Thibaut Courtois, Ferland Mendy, Raphael Varane and Casemiro.
Madrid at least will not be washed away by one bad night. They lost with the reserve defence and they went down fighting having almost staged a remarkable comeback.
Sergio Ramos has already been on social media to say: ‘The defeat hurts but it should teach us things. There are still some huge objectives left and we are going to fight for them.’
هدف بلباو !!! pic.twitter.com/u2v0wTWl4P
For Barcelona it is a little different. Gerard Pique stood up to be counted post-game telling reporters: ‘The unity in the dressing room is maximum.’
But one of the enduring images from the defeat in San Mames was Pique being dragged along by Iñaki Williams as he grabbed his shirt to stop a breakaway, getting a booking and an injury in the process.
That’s where Barça are at right now – being dragged along by events unable to take control. This was their fifth away defeat of the season and their second against Athletic Bilbao. Physically they look second best and they no longer seem to have the football to compensate.
On Tuesday winger Ousmane Dembele, maybe the only player quicker in La Liga than Williams, will be in Finland where Doctor Sakari Orava will operate on a tendon in the player’s right leg.
His absence, on top of Luis Suarez has left Barcelona with just three forwards: Lionel Messi, Ansu Fati and Antoine Griezmann. At they back they have just three centre-backs, and with Gerard Pique still recovering from trying to catch Williams and with a suspension looming they will only have Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti to face Betis on Sunday.
‘Everything went well apart from the result,’ said Setien after the game. There was some criticism of his decision to not start with Griezmann and to then take Fati off. There were also complaints about a clear push on Frenkie de Jong in the area that was not given.
But Barcelona supporters know they have to look beyond refereeing decisions and a coach who was fourth choice to take over and has only been in the job for month, if they are to get to the root of their woes.
Madrid fans last night were gallant in defeat giving both Martin Odegaard and Alexsandar Isak huge ovations when they went off. It must have helped them to know that the former could be back in a Real Madrid shirt as soon as next season.
In the rest of Spain the excitement of cup tournament restored to one-leg matches, until the semi-finals, after years of predictable two leg ties when the big sides could always get a second bite at avoiding an upset in the return leg, has been welcomed.
A few commentators have bemoaned the absence of the big two, as well as holders Valencia and Atletico Madrid in the Friday lunchtime draw but to criticize the glory of last night’s winner-takes-all 90 minute thrilling cup shocks, is to not really understand sport at all.