Autumn signings. When Luis Milla's son put Fuenlabrada ahead with a long-range thunderball, I shuddered - my whole body just froze. I was left in a state of shock. Fuenlabrada, the team with the best away record in Europe, were in front at the Bernabéu and needing just one more goal to force extra-time - What? Unbelievable!! With the a front line formed almost entirely of Castilla players (Franchu and Óscar accompanied Borja Mayoral up front), with Kovacic reappearing after 80 days on the sidelines and Ceballos and Llorente chugging along at a pedestrian pace for the lack of minutes Zidane has given them, the game was turning into a cruel X-ray of everything we had secretly feared, that maybe Cristiano was right all along, that the so-called second string is weaker to last season's. At the break, with Fuenla a goal up, the Bernabéu was beside itself - shivering with the cold weather and with uncertainty as to what the night might bring. It was a horror movie unfolding with yet another harrowing scene - a Cata Díaz header bounced back off the bar almost immediately after the break. Had that have gone in, we'd be looking at an extra half hour of extra-time. Then Gareth Bale came on... to save us! His sumptuous pass with the outside of his boot - his first touch of the game by the way - found Mayoral to make it 1-1. It was a dream to watch. The Prince of Wales saved the day and decided the tie! Welcome back Gareth!
Hat doffed to Calderón's Fuenlabrada
Well done Fuenla! They bowed out with dignity and honour. No one should forget that Fuenlabrada came to the Bernabéu as the team with the best away figures on the continent. In their group in the Second Division B (the same group which Castilla are in), they are top of the table and in fine form. Coach Antonio Calderón (who was part of the Rayo side that beat Madrid at the Bernabéu in January 1996, forcing Lorenzo Sanz to sack Valdano) is working wonders with his tactical expertise and has created a side who have no hang-ups. The most sceptical Madrid fans have not dared to place their faith in these situations since the infamous tie against Alcorcón eight years ago. On that 10th November, the Alfareros packed the Bernabéu, to watch Pellegrini's only just beat them 1-0 (turning over the 4-0 from the first leg was always going to be difficult) despite fielding an XI filled with internationals: Dudek; Lass, Pepe, Albiol, Arbeloa; Gago, Diarra, Kaká; Raúl, Higuaín, Van Nistelrooy and not forgetting Van der Vaart who came on and scored the game's only goal. This time history wasn't repeated, but only just... I take my hat off to Fuenla fans, who brought warmth to the stands in Chamartín on a night when all of us were relieved that it finally rained in Madrid - we really, really needed that; and on top of that, we had goals from Mayoral, who is making his case for more playing time during a moment when Benzema never gets benched. Madrid were without their regular goal scorers last night - Cristiano, Isco, Asensio, Casemiro and Karim, but Mayoral and his dogged determination spared our blushes...
Madrid want this Copa del Rey. The fans are relishing an appetizing draw in the Last 16. “Maybe it would be better for us to be drawn against Atleti, Sevilla or Barça. We always play better against the big teams”. I get that feeling of great optimism from the supporters' groups: Tíjola 88 (Almería), El Vendrell i Baix Penedes (Tarragona), Isla Cristina ‘Pepe Acosta’ (Huelva), Lorquí (Murcia) and Muelas del Pan (Zamora), as well as Tashko, head of the Macedonian supporters' group, Bara’Ah, from the Libyan supporters' group, and Roberto - a more madridista taxi driver you will not meet, in La Cruz de los Caídos (Pueblo Nuevo). The fans feel that the whirlwind schedule set for December (LaLiga, Champions League and Club World Cup) will see the very best of Zizou's Real Madrid - the one which we have loved watching during the past two years. And I have a good feeling about this season too. Bring it on!
Copa del Rey
*Update 28 de noviembre de 2017