An Isco brace helps push Real Madrid to victory after a gruelling game. Here’s our quick reaction to this match. Still to come: Post-game podcast, player ratings, and tactical review.
It wasn’t particularly convincing, and at times, not even particularly good. But here’s what it was: Enough.
The opening whistle was met with Real Madrid playing in front of a defensive barricade. Quique Sanches Flores put out a 4-4-2 scheme with an emphasis on playing compact and deep — taking a page out of Quique Setien’s playbook from earlier this season. Not only did Espanyol have every man behind the ball in the first half, but they did it with sometimes nine men in their own box.
There were complaints, to be sure (all over my Twitter feed and half-time live video on Facebook), about the emphasis on crossing and how badly Ronaldo was playing. For perspective, Zidane played it right despite only scoring one goal in the first half. There was a lot of movement off the ball down central channels, Cristiano Ronaldo was very involved despite not scoring (he was dropping to create from deep, played a couple great through-passes, one of which resulted in an assist), and there were overloads from Achraf and Nacho on the flanks. All of that culminates into creating a versatile offensive plan to keep the defense guessing.
It wasn’t perfect, but given the circumstances, it was at least the right way of going about breaking Espanyol down. But there were caveats. Just before the half-time whistle, Real Madrid conceded a clear-cut chance from the near-post (which, admittedly, I’ll have to re-watch to break it down) — a recurring theme this season; and in the second half, Espanyol un-cuffed their defensive chains, pressed-high, looked dangerous, and didn’t sacrifice their defensive shape in doing so.
That tweak from Quique at half-time induced all kinds of sweat beads for Zidane’s back-line. Espanyol was able to take advantage of Real Madrid’s high-line on a couple occassions — particularly when Nacho and Achraf were caught out, and Casemiro, Kroos, or Modric were uncharacteristically treading water trying to recover. It was typically Varane or Ramos who had to step in last second. At one time it was even Nacho covering up Sergio Ramos’s blushes.
لقطة إنقاذ ناتشو مرمى مدريد من هدف محقق في اخر لحضة . pic.twitter.com/5o6Q85Nytg— RMCFGoal (@RMCFGoal) October 1, 2017
Gerard Moreno should’ve probably shot that, rather than trying to square it — but Real Madrid won’t complain. Not long after, their counter-attack finally punished Espanyol’s pursuit for an equalizer, and killed their spirits altogether:
قوللللللللللللللللللللل إيسكو الهدف الثاني لمدريد . pic.twitter.com/4YFZCdlYpU— RMCFGoal (@RMCFGoal) October 1, 2017
Real Madrid will be happy to get three points for the first time at home in La Liga this season, obviously. We’ll break this down further in the coming hours.