Finally a win at the Santiago Bernabeu! It was far from an awe-inspring performance, but it will be enough to boost the boys confidence before heading into the international break. Zidane gave young Achraf Hakimi the start and the Morrocan responded with a solid performance and a clean sheet under his belt. But it would not be Achraf who stole the headlines, it was Isco. The former Malaga man was everywhere and was by far the best player on the pitch today. Both goals came from his magical feet and set Madrid forward for a good win at home.
Keylor Navas—7.5: Good save in the 49th minute off a poor pass from Kroos to Varane. The backline showed no urgency in recovering from the pass and lacked any shape.Keylor had to come up big and he did by cutting off the shooting angle and parrying the ball for a corner kick. He was not tested much, but was alert to come off is line and cover for Ramos when the Seville man was chasing Leo Baptistau on a through ball.
Achraf—7: First competitive start and debut in La Liga for Real Madrid at the tender age of 18. What a day for the Moroccan, who must have been full of emotions-- both nerves and excitement. His performance signaled that the excitement far outweighed the nerves. He was always available for the switch and played very high up the field. He called for the ball at every opportunity and was not afraid to attack Espanyol’s fullback, Aaron Martin. Those who have not seen much of the youngster during his Castilla days will be enamored with his incredible speed. He is similar to Varane in that his speed can allow him to recover from any potentials mishaps. Started to tire after the first hour of the game and was exposed a couple of times and had a few poor touches, but that was mostly down to fatigue. Hopefully this is the first of many performances for Real Madrid for young Achraf!
Varane—8.5: A rock at the back and really coming of age over the past 6-8 months. The Frenchman had an absolutely vital track back after Casemiro was burned by Leo Baptistau after an Espanyol break. Varane came back and caught up to the Brazilian to cut off his passing lane from setting up an easy goal. For most of the night, especially the first half, It was easy pickings for Varane and Ramos all night. Espanyol sat back with nine men and looked to break with Leo Baptistau whenever they won possession. Madrid’s high press and dominant possession meant there wasn’t much attack from Quique Sanchez Flores’ team. Varane swept up anything that made it’s way through and helped shepherd Achraf through the game.
Sergio Ramos—8:The center back was able to start play from the back and utilized his brilliant long range passing, switching the field of play to Achraf, Isco, and Asensio on a number of occasions. It was his long-range pass that found Asensio and trickled through to Isco 25 seconds into the match, which should have opened the scoring. His defensive duties were limited, as Espanyol did not offer much of an attack ion the first half. The Periquitos grew in confidence as the second half wore on and Madrid’s backline became more exposed as the game became more open. Despite the open nature of the second half, Madrid got the second goal and kept a solid clean sheet.
Nacho—7.5: Game after game, all we can do is salute Nacho. There is no drop in level with him in the team, yet he is third choice in two (maybe three) positions. It was his skillful, direct runs down the left that caused Sergio Sanchez major problems. Madrid overloaded the left wing and attacked Sanchez as often as possible. He imposes himself in the game and his crossing, even with his left foot, is often top quality.
Casemiro—5.5: The Brazilian was not at his usually consistent high level. Looked a little slower than usual and may need a rest. Had a reckless tackle on Aaron Martin resulting in a yellow card late in the second half and seemed to have more to do with frustration than necessity.
Luka Modric—6.5: He had limited influence in the first half as Espanyol sat back deep, but when he did get on the ball he would look to break down lines by taking on men and dribbling through the middle. Worked hard and was always available to keep the ball moving and juke past opponents.
Kroos—6.5: A tale of two halves for Toni. Toni was the best of the three midfielders today in the first half, but was complacent and had some sloppy give-aways in the second. Was replaced in the 70th minute for Lucas Vazquez to give Madrid more width and more dynamism. The first half proved once again that Kroos is such an intelligent player, he rarely switches off. As soon as Madrid loses the ball, he is there to press high and win the ball back immediately; keeping Espanyol locked in. He did that superbly in the first half. He may not be a vocal leader or an outspoken guy, but he is a leader on the pitch. He and Ramos help dictate the pace of the game and the type of defensive set-up Madrid will utilize after losing the ball.
Isco—9.5: Missed a sitter within the opening 25 seconds, but made amends 30 minutes into the second half with a beautiful toke poke past Pau Lopez. He was everywhere, left, right, and center. Played in a front 3 with Ronaldo and Asensio, but as has often been the case under Zidane—given total freedom to roam and influence the game as much as possible. Both his long and short-range passes were inch perfect and he took on his man at every opportunity. Isco wrote all the headlines after the scored his second goal, which was beautifully tucked into the corner of the net after Asensio set him up around the edge of the box. Zidane took him off in the 90th minute to a resounding standing ovations and chants of “ISCOOO, ISCOO”—a good day in the office for Isco Alcocorn.
Asensio—6.5: He and Isco both roamed and were all about the pitch. The Malaga man was far more influential. Asensio unfortunately didn’t see much of the ball in this match. Despite the limited influence, he was able to register an assist as he teed Isco up for his second goal of the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo—7.5: Like a lot of the Madrid side, his first half was better than the second. He racked up a beautiful assist for Isco, perfectly timing his through ball with Isco’s run. He is still coming into form. Was visibly frustrated not to get on the score sheet. He sets his standards so astronomically high, but things just have not fallen for him in La Liga. There can be no complaints as Ronnie constantly makes the runs in the box and is always lurking and hunting for any through ball or cross to get on the end of and add another goal to his tally. He showed incredible vision to find lucas Vazquez at the death of the game, but Lucas just missed getting on the end of it.
Lucas Vazquez—6: Added some width and a bit more dynamism for Madrid to utilize as Espanyol were growing in confidence. Isco quickly scored after Vazquez’s introduction and the blue and white lost a lot of their bite after the second goal. The game slowed down and Vazquez stayed wide and played simple, possession retaining, passes.
Dani Ceballos—6: Tried to get involved with the limited minutes he had, but looked to be over-doing it. Held on to the ball a little too long and was disposed on a couple of occasions. Always full of confidence despite the lack of minutes and am eager to see more of the youngster in Madrid’s white.
Borja Mayoral—N/A: Came on in the 90th minute for Isco, who was given a standing ovation.
Zidane—7.5: A good performance before the international break to get momentum and rebuild the confidence at the Bernabeu. Zizou should be saluted; he gave Achraf Hakimi the confidence to start his first competitive game for Real Madrid. He did not loan the player from the academy out, he directly promoted him and has now played him. He could have used Vazquez at right back or even put Vallejo in the backline, but Achraf was given the nod and that’s a testament to Zidane and his knowledge of the player and the academy. As for the attacking scheme, Isco and Asensio were given total freedom to roam. The Malaga man continues to reap the rewards of the tactical freedom given to him. He put in another game changing display and continues to build on his good form. Personally would have liked to see Ceballos come on earlier, but Zidane secured the victory so small details will not need to be dragged out.