The final four of the Copa del Rey certainly has a fresh feel to it. For the first time since 1955, both Real Madrid and Barcelona were knocked out of the competition on the same day. Seismic shocks were sent around Spain as both Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad produced upsets on the same night to dump the La Liga giants out of the domestic cup competition.
This will be the first time since 2010 that neither Barcelona or Real Madrid will not be in the last four with the Blaugrana winning four of the last five tournaments. But now, there are four new kids on the block and one of them will be crowned champions in May. We’ve taken a look at the four remaining contenders for the title this year.
The side that toppled Real Madrid at the Bernabeu certainly have a lot to shout about. Ironically for Los Blancos, the first goal was scored by one of their own loanees, as Martin Odegaard begins to fulfil the potential that saw Madrid splash out €3 million on a Norweigian sixteen-year-old.
The Scandinavian influence on this side does not end there. Top scorer in the competition with seven goals so far this season is Swedish striker Alexander Isak, who at twenty-years-old already has the likes of Borussia Dortmund on his CV. Now he has a permanent home in Spain, he is truly starting to find his feet. Having won this competition twice before, Sociedad have also been beaten in finals five-times, giving them one of the worst finals win percentage in the competition’s history.
Premier League fans will recognise ex-Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal and former Manchester United misfit Adnan Januzaj while head coach Imanol Alguacil is finally getting his chance in charge of the first team, having spent nine years rising through the ranks at the club. In current terms at least, they can be compared to Wolves in the English top flight. Accomplished, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they went the whole way.
Only Barcelona have won more Copa del Rey’s than Athletic Bilbao. They truly are one of Spain’s most historic clubs having won this competition 23 times and appeared in 37 finals. Despite the recent finals experience, they haven’t won the trophy since 1984, a run they will be desperate to end this year.
One of three founding members of La Liga to never be relegated (no prizes for guessing the other two), Bilbao are famed for their unique ‘Cantera’ policy, of only using, signing and playing professional players from the Basque region. This makes the club fiercely connected to its region, something that has been lost by other clubs around the world.
Inaki Williams is the big name upfront while the likes of Benat, Inigo Martinez and Unai Nunez all have international appearances to their name. Currently sat ninth in La Liga, but still with a chance of a top-four finish, such is the competitiveness of the division this season, Bilbao are truly incomparable to any English club.
If they won this competition it would be like Everton winning the FA Cup. An honest, wholesome club finally throwing back to the glory days.
Loosely translated as ‘pomegranate’ in English, the city of Granada certainly packs a punch. One of the hottest cities on the continent, their football team is currently reflecting the weather after years in the Spanish lower leagues. They spent four years in the fourth tier of Spanish football in the mid-2000s but fought their way up to the top flight in 2011.
However, last decade, after sixth consecutive seasons, they were relegated once more and spent two years in the Segunda division. This is their first season back in the big time and they are smashing it. Tenth in the league and Copa del Rey semi-finalists, it is no exaggeration to say that this is on track to becoming their best-ever season.
They have appeared in just one Copa final before, back in 1959, but were promptly disposed of by Barcelona, losing that game 4-1. Now funded by a Chinese businessman, Granada are here to stay. It’s been an emphatic rise but a trophy would take things to another level. The Bournemouth of southern Spain.
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Now we are talking. Mirandes are currently 11th in the second tier of Spanish football and this cup run looks to have come out of nowhere. They disposed of Villarreal with a stunning 4-2 home win and have had success in the past in this competition, reaching the semi-finals back in 2012. That year they came up against Bilbao, who they lost 8-3 to over the two legs, so they could seek revenge this time around.
Historically, Mirandes have bounced around the third and fourth tier of Spanish football. They even dropped into the regional fifth tier in 199 but after 67 seasons of existence, they made it up to the Segunda Division for the first time in their history. Since then they have been relegated and promoted once more but now in their first season back in the second tier, they are hitting the headlines.
Matheus has hit five goals in this competition and is the second top scorer behind Sociedad’s Isak, but put simply, Mirandes shouldn’t be here. Clubs like them don’t reach this stage normally, but I guess that is the magic of the cup. This is like Luton Town reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Incredible.