Diego Costa is an Atlético Madrid player, but he also belongs to us all in a way because Julen Lopetegui sees him as part of the Spain set-up. For that reason his return to action in the Copa del Rey against Lleida on Wednesday night was good news, even if it was for only half an hour, with a quick goal included. Costa is a good player, and a tough one, even to the extent of being a little ill-tempered. As Lopetegui has said in the past: “Good ham comes with a bone.” Atlético’s fitness coach, Óscar “El Profe” Ortega, has brought Costa up to speed with a regime of boxing, among other things, which given the way he is has not been without episodes of hi-jinks. On Wednesday he returned, he scored, he was hurt in a tackle and carried on, grimacing. It was only half an hour but Costa did not appear to be rusty. Vitolo, another player on Lopetegui’s agenda, will require more time.
The Atlético new boys were not the only novelties in the midweek Copa round of fixtures. Both Sevilla and Las Palmas unveiled a new coach. For the Andalusians, Vincenzo Montella reinstated Steven N’Zonzi after the Frenchman´s falling out with former boss Eduardo Berizzo and Sevilla won comfortably in Cádiz. It was a good start for the Italian tactician, recently dismissed by AC Milan and eager to grasp this fresh opportunity with both hands. For his part, Paco Jémez was denied an inaugural victory late on against Valencia. It seems to me that Las Palmas have responded to their shock therapy but ended the game physically exhausted. And with Valencia’s Gonçalo Guedes playing as he has been consistently this season it was only natural that Valencia would eventually find themselves on top. Jémez’s Las Palmas looked to be a new proposition but it is Valencia who will be eyeing the quarter-finals.
On Thursday it is the turn of, among others, the two Liga heavyweights and a chance for the B teams to take their turn. Barcelona, who have such a handsome advantage in the league, are not going to break their backs for the Copa del Rey. They will look to progress and will try to win the competition but they will not be using up valuable energy on it in January. Barça’s opponents Celta Vigo, who knocked out Real Madrid at the quarter-final stage last season, have a good chance to repeat the trick. Neither will Real Madrid call on many first-team regulars, at least in this round, where they are away at Segunda side Numancia before hosting at the Bernabéu. Zinedine Zidane is celebrating his second anniversary as Madrid boss on the day of the fixture: two years with many triumphs. But he knows better than anybody that in football the last result is the one that counts.