Madrid: Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti believes his side produced their best performance of his reign as they downed local rivals Atletico Madrid 3-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday.
Atletico had won on each of their previous two visits to the Santiago Bernabeu, including in last year’s Copa del Rey final, but Ancelotti stressed the improvement his side have made since their defeat to Los Rojiblancos in La Liga back in September.
“I have said before that many things have changed since that match. We are more solid, more natural in our play and more compact,” said the Italian.
“I think it was [the best performance]. Above all because the team we were facing is a very difficult team to play against. They are very strong and aggressive, so I thought we played very well.
“I am completely satisfied. We did everything well, we moved the ball with pace and were very aggressive without it. I wish the team could always play like they did tonight.”
Real did have fortune on their side, though, as their first and third goals were credited as own goals after taking wicked deflections.
Emiliano Insua was first to put through his own goal 17 minutes in, when he turned Pepe’s fiercely struck effort past the helpless Thibaut Courtois in the Atletico goal.
Jese Rodriguez then continued his fine scoring form with the second just before the hour mark, and Real all but secured their place in the final when Angel di Maria’s shot deflected off Miranda to once again wrong-foot Courtois.
Barcelona look set to meet their historical rivals in the final as they took a 2-0 first leg advantage over Real Sociedad in the other semi-final at the Camp Nou.
They also had luck on their side as Enaut Zubikarai’s own goal added to Sergio Busquets’ opener handed them a comfortable win over 10-man Sociedad.
Busquets bundled home the opener before Inigo Martinez received a straight red card for taking his protests to the referee too far.
Barca went for the kill after half-time but had to rely on a huge slice of luck to double their advantage, as Gorka Elustondo smashed an intended clearance off his own goalkeeper Zubikarai and the ball rebounded into the net.
In Madrid, Atletico boss Diego Simeone was left to reflect on his side’s bad luck, but refused to write off their chances of producing a famous comeback in the second leg on Tuesday.
“I think Real Madrid played very well, but they scored twice with shots that hit our players on the body and went in,” he said.
“We still have 90 minutes to play and anything can happen in football.”
It wasn’t all good news for Real on Wednesday, however, as earlier in the day Cristiano Ronaldo was handed a three-match ban in La Liga following his red card against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Ancelotti said the club would appeal the decision and he expects the suspension to be reduced.
“No one is happy because three games without playing is not normal. We will appeal and I think it is normal that they take away a few games because three games is not normal,” he said.
Gareth Bale was also not involved against Atletico as he was withdrawn from the squad just hours before the game.
It was the third consecutive game Bale had missed as he recovers from a calf injury, but Ancelotti insisted that he was just keeping the Welshman fresh for this weekend’s clash with Villarreal given Ronaldo’s absence.
“It is not a reoccurence of the injury. We preferred to give him a rest because Cristiano cannot play on Saturday, so with Gareth fresh it could be good for us and for that reason we decided to rest him tonight.”