Preview: Villarreal vs. Real Madrid 

Preview: Villarreal vs. Real Madrid 

Aiming to avoid a second dose of cup disappointment in a matter of days, Real Madrid take on Villarreal in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey at La Ceramica on Thursday evening.

Quique Setien’s side played out a 1-1 draw with Celta Vigo in their most recent outing, while Los Blancos fell to a 3-1 loss to Barcelona in the final of the Supercopa de Espana.

Embarking on a spectacular seven-game winning run in competitive and non-competitive fixtures leading up to their trip to Celta Vigo, Villarreal could not extend their victorious streak to eight matches, despite Gerard Moreno breaking the deadlock with only 15 minutes gone.

Jorgen Strand Larsen came off the bench to level for Celta Vigo in the second half, but there has been much to like about Villarreal since Setien succeeded Unai Emery, and regaining their rightful place in the Champions League is no longer mission impossible.

Indeed, the Yellow Submarine are sitting pretty in fifth in the La Liga table – only behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid on goal difference – but at the same time only one goal separates Villarreal from fellow 28-pointers Real Betis in sixth spot.

The top-four race takes a backseat for the time being, as Villarreal – who have already beaten Santa Amalia, Guijuelo and FC Cartagena in this year’s Copa del Rey – endeavour to make the quarter-finals of the competition for the third time in four seasons.

The Yellow Submarine have not progressed further than the last eight since losing to Barcelona in the 2014-15 semi-finals – their best-ever finish in the competition – but a first-ever piece of domestic silverware is long overdue for the Ceramica outfit.

Real Madrid make the journey to a team who have failed to keep a single clean sheet since the return of domestic football after the World Cup, but Carlo Ancelotti was left to rue defensive deficiencies as Barcelona clinched the Supercopa de Espana crown in Riyadh.

Gavi coolly slotted home the opening goal before turning provider for Robert Lewandowski and Pedri either side of the half time whistle, and Karim Benzema’s response with only seconds remaining served as little consolation for the capital giants.

Also playing catch-up to La Blaugrana in the race for La Liga title glory, second-placed Real Madrid have a three-point gap to make up to Barcelona and face a particularly challenging set of fixtures against Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Valencia in the coming weeks.

It took a second-half goal from Rodrygo for Real Madrid to edge past Cacereno 1-0 in the last round of the Copa del Rey, which they have not won since 2014, and Los Blancos have suffered four quarter-final exits since last lifting the domestic prize nine years ago.

However, not since their last stint as defending champions in 2014-15 have Real Madrid been dumped out in the last 16, although they were beaten 2-1 by Villarreal at La Ceramica on January 7, and jet lag will not be the visitors’ friend at the Yellow Submarine’s fortress.

Villarreal Copa del Rey form:

Villarreal form (all competitions):

Real Madrid Copa del Rey form:

Real Madrid form (all competitions):

We say: Villarreal 2-1 Real Madrid
Lightning may very well strike twice at La Ceramica this week, with plenty of Ancelotti’s first-team crop under-performing, others out injured and nearly all battling the effects of a tiring mid-season trip for the Super Cup.

Villarreal’s defensive frailties and fitness issues should give Los Blancos hope, but having already overcome the Champions League holders in 2023 and showcasing an affinity for goals, we have faith in Setien’s side to end Los Blancos’ hopes of Copa del Rey glory.

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