Real Madrid take advantage of Sevilla and Barcelona’s lapses today by winning in convincing fashion against a very good Sociedad side. Here are some quick notes to share before a more thorough tactical review which will be posted tonight:
Kroos and Kovacic
It was these two who carried the team amid a sluggish first half, and it was they that controlled the match throughout. Kroos was tremendous in snuffing out passing lanes while carrying the ball forward on counters. The German bot completed 41/49 passes (low for him, all things considered — mostly because Sociedad had a lot of the possession tonight) and had two interceptions.
Kovacic, meanwhile, was otherworldly good — easily the standout player in this match. The eye test was wonderful (I will give you all the eye candy you need in my upcoming column), but if you want some cold hard stats, bask in this: SIX successful tackles, three successful take ons, one goal, one assist, and just three misplaced passes all game. He made runs with the ball, and like Kroos, was tremendous in denying Sociedad’s passing lanes.
It takes a lot for the entire Bernabeu to stand up for you. Kovacic earned it. Terrific performance.— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) January 29, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo, ageing regressing hero or bonafide game-changing superstar?
Question: Are we allowed to criticize Ronaldo if he scored, assisted, and whipped in a tremendous free-kick? He saved face, after looking leg-heavy (again), and looking inept at getting past his man (again). The decision-making was suspect, as was his first touch. But Cristiano Ronaldo does Cristiano Ronaldo things — slipping in Mateo Kovacic with a brilliant through ball for Real Madrid’s first goal; then acting as the recipient of a Kovacic through ball before scoring Real Madrid’s 2nd.
To boot, he pleasantly surprised me by crossing in a free-kick just when you thought he was going to shoot it from a tough angle from the right side. I was a fan of this play — the way he hits it is incredibly difficult for defenders to deal with.
OK. I am a fan of the Ronaldo free-kick shot / cross decoy from the right. Add it to the playbook.— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) January 29, 2017
All in all, Cristiano Ronaldo’s grade tonight:
Eusebio lending a hand
Don’t get me wrong — I love me some Sacristan. But Real Madrid dodged bullets here with Xabi Prieto and Carlos Vela starting this game on the bench. If you remember, Vela didn’t play in the La Liga opener against Real Madrid either, and I thought Sociedad lacked flair without him. Both Prieto and Vela are so important to Sociedad’s influence on a match, so it was surprising to see Eusebio bench both in such an important game where they could have put a cushion between themselves and Atletico. It also surprised me that it was Oyarzabal who came off. He’s been a spark plug this season, and was Sociedad’s most dangerous player tonight.
Side note: Inigo Martinez has been a wrecking ball this year. What a great and hot-headed gem he’s turned into.