Real Madrid CF barely scraped past Elche in the last-16 of the Copa del Rey. The two sides met on Thursday evening at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero, where troubled forward Eden Hazard rescued his side from yet another embarrassing early exit from the said tournament.
Los Blancos have not enjoyed Copa del Rey success since 2014, incidentally during Carlo Ancelotti's first stint as manager. This time, they needed a come-from-behind victory to advance to the quarterfinals.
Ancelotti fielded an unusual starting lineup for the match, with Andriy Lunin making a rare start in place of the injured Thibaut Courtois. Luka Jovic also got the nod in place of Karim Benzema, who has been stellar all season. In the Frenchman's absence, Marcelo wore the captain's armband in another uncommon sight this season.
The changes made it difficult for Real Madrid to find their rhythm, and Elche managed to keep them at bay throughout regulation time despite some notable efforts from Vinicius Junior. Guido Carillo threatened to give Elche the early lead but was denied by the crossbar. He also managed to put Lunin to work, with Real Madrid lucky to have forced extra time.
Even during extra time, it was still advantage to Elche as Gonzalo Verdu struck the first goal of the match in the 103rd minute just after Marcelo was sent off after a challenge on Tete Morente. It looked like another Copa del Rey disaster for Real Madrid, before substitutes Isco Alarcon and Eden Hazard scored goals and saved the day to finish the match on top at 1-2.
The Real Madrid squad will be relieved to make it through even without their first-choice starting lineup. On Sunday, they will face Elche again as they attempt to retain a 4-point lead at the top of the La Liga Santander table. Sevilla's draw with Valencia earlier this week meant that they were not able to close the gap to just two points. Real Madrid now need to shake Sevilla further back in order to have a more comfortable grip on the league title.
Next month, they also have the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain to think about. After winning the Spanish Super Cup last week, Los Blancos are determined to fight for all the other trophies still available after failing to win any silverware last season.