Having seen off Real Madrid and landed a favourable draw, Celta Vigo now have a golden opportunity to reach their first cup final since 2001. They head into this week’s Copa del Rey Semi-Final 1st Leg against Alavés in confident mood and with reason to believe they could lift a major piece of silverware this season, for the first time in the club’s 93 year history.
It would certainly brighten up a Balaídos trophy cabinet, to which pride of place currently goes to the 2000 Intertoto Cup. It’s a remnant of their ‘glory years’ when the likes of Benni McCarthy, Valeri Karpin and Aleksandr Mostovoi were the toast of Galician city and Celta were European regulars under the stewardship of Víctor Fernández and Miguel Ángel Lotina.
However with Europa League knock-out football also to look forward to next month, there is a real sense that the good times have now returned. Celta have started 2017 in fine form with six wins out of eight in all competitions during a busy January. Their deserved triumph over two legs against Los Blancos was the clear highlight but it’ll count for little if they don’t do the business against Alavés over the next fortnight.
The Basque side are awkward customers though and Celta will need to match the intensity they produced at the Bernabeu and last week at Balaídos if they are to progress. The challenge will be a very different one with Alavés favouring a cautious approach and they are likely to defend deep and look to stifle Celta’s attacking threat in Thursday’s 1st Leg.
The sides have already met at Balaídos in La Liga this calendar year with Celta triumphing 1-0 but it took 89 minutes for them to break down their 10 man opponents with a rare Nemanja Radoja goal settling things late on. That was Alavés’ only defeat in their last 14 matches in all competitions though and they are a really organised unit under Mauricio Pellegrino that seems to relish the underdog tag, which makes this Copa del Rey Semi-Final anything but a foregone conclusion.
The fact either side is going so well, would have been hard to predict at the beginning of the campaign. Celta sold they their undisputed star Nolito in the summer and came into the season operating on a net transfer profit of €13million and with precious few arrivals of note, despite the increased workload that European football was inevitably going to bring.
Their task has been made harder by a very public falling out between coach Eduardo Berizzo and dangerous Chilean winger Fabián Orellana, another of their main attacking weapons last term. Orellana has branded his coach disloyal, while Berizzo has indicated the 31 year old now has no future at the club.
Orellana looks set to complete a move to Valencia before the transfer window closes this week and with Jozabed Sánchez, a loan signing from Fulham, their only January acquisition to date, they’ve done to little to bolster their squad ahead of what will be a hectic few months of football with Celta challenging on three fronts. Nevertheless Berizzo, who played in Celta’s disappointing 2001 Copa del Rey final defeat against Real Zaragoza, has plenty of reason to believe this season could have a very different ending.
In Iago Aspas, he has one of Spanish football’s most deadly finishers. The 29 year old hometown hero, has netted 15 goals for his club already this season and there is plenty of competition up top with the likes of John Guidetti and Giuseppe Rossi on-board.
The spine of the team is strong with Pablo Hernández, Daniel Wass and Nemanja Radoja impressing in midfield and they are rarely out-battled or out-passed which makes them tough opponents for even the powerhouses of Spanish football. Their ability to rattle the big boys will also give them great confidence looking ahead to a potential Cup final.
If they can see off Alavés over two legs, which does remain a big ‘if’, they’ll face either Barcelona or Atletico Madrid, almost certainly on neutral territory in May. Few would argue they didn’t deserve to beat the European Champions in the last round and given Barcelona have conceded 4 goals in defeats on each of their last two visits to play Celta Vigo, they’d have reason not to fear the Catalan giants either.
Celta also knocked Atletico Madrid out of the Copa del Rey last season at the Quarter-Final stage with a shock 3-2 win at the Vicente Calderon so they clearly are a team that is capable of rising to the occasion and from a neutral perspective it’d be great to see them lock horns with one of the current giants of the game with silverware on the line.
Negotiating what is likely to be a fiercely fought 180 minutes, and perhaps more, against Alavés will be the immediate priority but Celta Vigo fans at least, can be forgiven for daring to dream. A first piece of major silverware, would be enormous for the club and would cement their status ahead of Depor, as current top dogs in Galicia. It’d also be just rewards for all the good work that has been done in Vigo since their return to the top flight in 2012 and the steady progress that has been made in spite of limited funds.