We're only just reaching the quarterfinals for the 2015/16 Copa del Rey, but the tournament has already brought its fair share of surprises. From the controversial disqualification of Real Madrid in the middle of the round of 32 (for fielding an ineligible player) to the surprisingly great showing from some of Barcelona's up-and-coming young talents, this year's Copa del Rey has offered entertainment and discussion in equal measure. Now, with the slate for the quarterfinal officially announced, we're checking back in with the tournament to assess the likely outcomes of the next run and whether or not FC Barcelona are a shoe-in to win the CDR title once more in 2016.
The Quarterfinal Draw
As is customary for the Copa del Rey, most of the football clubs that have survived all the way to the quarterfinals are La Liga teams. The one exception this year is CD Mirandes, the Segunda Division club that managed a surprising 4-1 aggregate win against Deportivo La Coruna in the round of 16. Mirandes won a 3-0 away fixture in the second leg of the round of 16 to send Deportivo packing. They're definitely this season's Cinderella story.
With the quarterfinal, though, it looks like the clock might be about to strike midnight for Mirandes. The second-tier soccer squad are drawn against Sevilla for the next round. Sevilla were eliminated in the quarters last year, by Espanyol, but the two-time reigning Europa League Champions seem unlikely to fall to a lower-tier soccer club.
The other three quarterfinal matches will all be played between La Liga teams that have already done battle during the 2015/16 domestic campaign. Those match-ups will pit Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao, Valencia against Las Palmas, and Atletico Madrid against Celta Vigo.
Predictions for the Round
So who, other than Sevilla, is likely headed to the semifinals? Looking at the four quarterfinal draws on paper, it seems like there is a clearly favored team in each of them: Sevilla, Barcelona, Valencia, and Atletico Madrid.
However, if you take a closer look, at these matches, you might see that they aren't as predictable as they immediately seem. The Valencia-Las Palmas fixtures, for instance, could give way to a real battle. Valencia, as a long-standing La Liga team, are favored over Las Palmas, who were just promoted to the top-flight this season. However, at their one match this season, Las Palmas managed to force a 1-1 draw with Valencia-on Valencia's home turf, no less. Could the underdogs from Las Palmas manage a win when they get the home field advantage?
Barcelona also have to be favored heavily to win their two games against Athletic Bilbao. In addition to being the reigning Copa del Rey champions, Barca have also been tearing through the tournament so far. They won 6-1 against Villanovense in a second leg fixture and dominated Espanyol in the round of 16. Better yet, manager Luis Enrique hasn't even had to rely on the Messi-Suarez-Neymar trio yet, with most of Barca's goals coming from Sandro Ramirez (three) or Munir (five).
Still, Athletic Bilbao are the football club that spoiled Barcelona's chances at a perfect six-title run in 2015. In the first game of last year's Spanish Super Cup, Athletic Bilbao beat Barca 4-0. A 1-1 draw in the next leg ensured that Bilbao walked away with the title-vanquishing the treble winners in spectacular fashion. To be fair, though, Barca's stars were exhausted from an extra-time UEFA Super Cup battle with Sevilla-a game that had taken place just three days before the first Supercopa de Espana match. Barcelona have still beaten Athletic Bilbao plenty of times recently-including in last year's Copa del Rey final-and should be well-rested enough to continue the streak in the quarterfinals.
As for Atletico Madrid, they're easy bets to top Celta Vigo. While Celta Vigo managed a fluke 4-1 win against FC Barcelona back in September, they lost 0-2 to Atletico Madrid just earlier this month. Add the fact that Atletico's Mattress Makers have fought their way back to contender status in the La Liga this season, and there's no reason to expect that they won't be contenders here, as well. In fact, the most likely CDR final right now is probably between Barca and Atletico.
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