Notes from today’s brilliant win at the Calderon.
As we mentioned several times pre-game - and as we always do when speaking about ungluing Simeone’s scheme - you need unpredictable players to disrupt Atletico’s preparation. The two players who excel in this role when you look at Real Madrid’s entire squad are Marcelo and Isco, both of whom were the architects of most of the team’s chances.
In Isco’s case he was the best player on the pitch. His touches were made of silk, and his composure and ability to bring calmness to the team was on Modric-level.
Zidane continues to surprise
This ‘tactically inept motivator’ has surprised us over and over again. Think back to some of the team’s best performances since his arrival - last season at the Camp Nou, the two-legs against City, the final in Milan, and this season’s trip to Dortmund. They’ve all also arrived on the biggest stages, when the fans have cast a dark shadow over Zidane, and the team’s backs are to the wall.
Tonight he packed the midfield and fought fire with fire - all this without a pure anchor in midfield and without a pure 9. What looked on paper like a 4-4-2 actually unfolded into a 4-5-1. Gareth Bale and Lucas Vasquez played deep, supporting their full-backs while Isco ran down the throat of Atletico’s defense and Ronaldo wreaked havoc up top.
Defensively, Kovacic and Modric worked tremendously hard, while Varane and Nacho were stellar at the back. As a whole, the transitional defense looked quite good, and there’s something quite beautiful about watching Real Madrid play when packing the midfield with four warriors.
Also impressive - Zidane’s blueprint kept the menacing Yannick Carrasco in check, rendering him invisible all match apart from a couple shots which didn’t threaten. Koke, one of the instigator’s of Atletico’s offensive surge this season, was subdued, and found it difficult to find outlet passes with the way Real Madrid closed down passing lanes.
Underrated in this aspect will always be Isco. As great as he is with the ball at his feet, his understanding of defending the half-spaces and covering for his teammates is off the charts.
Atletico came out in the 2nd half on a surge, and Zidane’s men didn’t cope well mentally with it - making some dangerous mis-passes in their own half. But Atletico was always going to come out aggressive after an underperforming first half, and after Ronaldo’s penalty, the team regained control.
The wonders of a contract extension
This was the closest thing we’ve seen to vintage Ronaldo all season. What a performance. And it wasn’t just his goals, but his sheer will to impose himself on the outcome of the game. He was tracking back, working hard to regain possession and disrupt Atletico’s flow, made darting runs, and put pressure on Simeone’s backline all match.
And just a quick note before I sign off here: What a fantastic run from Gareth Bale to set-up Ronaldo’s third. That entire goal reminded me of the third goal scored in Munich in 2014. Vintage Bale - pace and power - coupled with a vintage Ronaldo run and finish.