Real Madrid coasted to a 4-1 victory over Cornella in the Copa del Rey last 32, but Los Blancos were forced to work hard for their first-leg advantage.
In total, Carlo Ancelotti made seven changes from last week’s 3-1 Clasico victory over Barcelona, with Keylor Navas, Raphael Varane, Nacho, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sami Khedira, Asier Illarramendi and Javier Hernandez all coming into the fold.
Cornella, meanwhile, were determined to show that they were no pushovers following their bright start to the Segunda B campaign, and much of the squad which beat Elche B 2-1 earned the opportunity to face Madrid – at Espanyol’s home ground.
From the offset, Madrid dominated possession, but Cornella did their best to counter the visitors’ approach by plugging away with great intensity. Their persistence saw them fire the game’s first shot on target via the left foot of Joel Marin.
However, the cream quickly rose to the top. First, Khedira forced Jose Manuel Segovia into making a close-range save, after he met James Rodriguez’s cross on the 10-minute mark, before Raphael Varane made no mistake from a similar position moments later.
Madrid were expected to build on their goal, but a failure to deal with a long ball proved fatal, as Oscar Munoz used sheer brute force to squeeze past both of Madrid’s centre-backs and blast an emphatic, half-volleyed finish over Navas.
The visitors thought they had won themselves a penalty when Nacho’s header from a corner struck the hand of Marin. Referee Santiago Jaime, however, had other ideas, and Cornella continued to defend their lines astutely.
The Catalonians’ bubble would burst once more, though. Varane atoned for his mistake in the build-up to the hosts’ equaliser by grabbing his second of the game in identical fashion to his first, with another powerful header from Isco’s corner.
The second half was a case of more of the same, with Madrid’s dominance resulting in another early goal. Picking up a loose ball on the edge of the box, Chicharito unleashed an angled drive past Segovia to push Cornella further out of the picture.
The Mexico striker could have immediately added to his haul, as he looked favourite to meet James’ dangerous, swirling cross into the box, but in Marti’s first activity since coming on as a substitute, the defender stretched to poke the ball out of play.
Nonetheless, the half could have panned out differently for Madrid. Carvajal took a knock shortly after the restart, amid fears that he may have suffered an injury, before Varane was shown a yellow card for a deliberate handball – a matter of yards away from the penalty area.
Marcelo replaced James on the hour mark, and he was a hugely-influential figure in the latter stages. After seeing a back-heeled attempt saved by Segovia’s legs, the full-back then curled a searching cross into the path of an onrushing Chicharito, who missed by a whisker.
The Brazilian then went one better, smashing home the rebound from Isco’s low strike, to give Madrid a seemingly-unassailable advantage ahead of the second leg on December 2.
Cornella 1-4 Real Madrid
Varane 10 (RM), Munoz 20 (C), Varane 36 (RM), Chicharito 53 (RM) Marcelo 75 (RM)
Cornella: Segovia; Joel, Dani Marti, Pelegri (Marti 56), Arnau; David, Pep Caballe; Xemi (Gaudioso 70), Gomez, Josele (Gallar 56); Oscar Munoz
Madrid: Navas; Arbeloa, Varane, Nacho, Carvajal; James (Marcelo 59), Khedira, Illarra, Isco (De Tomas 76), Benzema (Medran 76), Hernandez