After back to back defeats, Madrid has been in “crisis” and the blame has been pointed at both Zidane and the players. A response was needed, and not just a win, but also a win that would provide encouragement and confidence before the international break. Zidane’s men struggled in the first half, failing to find a rhythm and lacking intensity, but the second half was another story and the boys walked away with three goals scored and a clean sheet. The Vallejo-Ramos partnership looked solid, Nacho was confident at right back, and both Isco and Asensio found their form and found the back of the net.
Slow First half and tactical chaos
It would be another slow start from the whites. There was no real urgency or intensity in their play even after the backlash received from back to back defeats. Benzema was played through three minutes into game with a clear 1v1 against Las Palmas goalkeeper, Raul Lizoain, and he fluffed it. It was simply an opportunity that must be finished by Real Madrid’s #9. At the very least, Benzema should have slipped the ball to Asensio, who had made a parallel run to the Frenchman, for the easy tap. It would be that type of game for Benzema, who was underwhelming. This has been the story of Benzema’s season and he is in desperate need of a change in form.
With the line up announcement prior to the game, it looked like Madrid would revert back to a 4-3-3. That may have been Zidane’s plan, but in the opening 45 minutes, the players were everywhere and it was impossible to pinpoint a set formation. Don’t be mistaken, it was not free flowing football with roaming positions, it was tactical chaos. Isco and Asensio failed to leave their imprint on the first half as both tried to do too much. Asensio tended to the right flank, but would shift towards the middle, come deep near the center backs, and clog the left. Isco did the same, neither had a set position.
Defensively, it looked like Madrid wanted to defend in a 4-4-2 with Isco and Asensio helping to double down on the wings. Madrid attempted to press high when Las Palmas tried to play out of the back, but the press was disjointed and the yellow shirts easily found their way out on a number of occasions. Too often in the first half, there were large gaps of space between the four members of the backline. The defensive structure had further issues, as there was too much space between the midfield line and the defensive line. The setup should be more narrow and rigid. Zidane needs two tight blocks of eight—a tactic Zidane used well when he first took over, but something we have yet to see this season. It’s an age-old defensive structure that coaches like Ancelotti, Lippi, and Capello used to perfection.
Momentum starts to build late in first half
The 35th minute and on, Madrid really started to dominate and pin Las Palmas back. The backline pushed high up into the opposing half in order to lock Las Palmas into their defensive end of the pitch. Madrid peppered Raul’s goal, in particular, Marco Asensio drilled a perfect in swinging left footed cross straight to Benzema’s head, but the Frenchman failed to get good contact with his header. The whites would continue to knock on the door and just minutes later Asensio again whipped in a dangerous corner kick. Casemiro powered the cross home with his head. Calleti flicked on the cross in an attempted clearnerce, but instead the ball found its way to the head of Casemiro and Madrid opened their account. It was the first set piece goal of the season and the first headed goal of the season. The goal helped to relieve the team and ease the pressure that the Bernabeu was about to unleash prior to the first half whistle.
In a lackluster half, Vallejo stood out. He made some crucial last minute interceptions and produced an aura of composure and calm. Hope to see the young Spaniard get a run of games in the white shirt before too many conclusions are made on his abilities. The early signs are positive, and the defender’s style is akin to Varane rather than a Ramos or a Pepe.
Second Half Dominance
Zidane must have had some words with the boys at half as they came out with good intensity. Asensio and Isco both increased their involvement and stuck closer to their respective wing positions. It wouldn’t take long for Madrid to add another to their account. In the 56th minute, Asensio scored another golazo. The boy only knows how to score absolute screamers. A corner kick came flying in and Las Palmas keeper, Raul, punched the ball out. The ball flew out past the 18-yard box where Asensio was lurking. He smacked his golden left foot through the half volley and saw the ball rocket into the upper ninety. It was a deserved goal as Madrid had come out strong and Las Palmas were simply holding on.
Five minutes after the goal, and Madrid would continue to generate goal-scoring opportunities. First Marcelo, who was slipped through by beautiful chip from Isco. The Brazilian was setup for his own volley and lashed his left foot at the ball only to see it hit the side netting. A minute later Kroos would unleash a laser that dipped and swerved and nearly found Raul picking the ball out of the back of the net. Madrid were certainly on top. Las Palmas did not have a sniff of Madrid’s goal. The boys in white were more focused, more confident, and more clinical.
Cristiano Ronaldo overcomes Raul with the most assists in Real Madrid’s history.
It was a great performance from Cristiano Ronaldo, but he won’t be happy because he lives for goals. He created opportunity after opportunity, sometimes out of nothing. In the first half, he cut in from the right and moved the ball to his left foot, what looked like an impossible angle turned into a vicious “weak” foot shot that nailed off the post and eventually deflected out of bounds. It would again be a frustrating night for Ronnie. In the second half, he came from the left and vintage Ronald cracked a shot with his right foot that nearly found the upper ninety. His record breaking moment would come in the 73rd minute, he and Asensio broke free on a counter attack and Ronaldo then laid a low driven cross past the face of the goal for Isco to tuck home Madrid’s third of the night. With that assist, Ronaldo overcame Raul with the most assists in Real Madrid’s history. An incredible statistic for the leading goal scorer in Madrid’s history.
Substitutions and further goal mouth action
Zidane had the opportunity to give Llorente, Ceballos, and Lucas Vazquez some solid minutes in this game. Llorente came on for Casemiro who was one card away from missing the Atletico game, Ceballos gave Kroos some rest, and Lucas replaced Karim Benzema who had one of his worst performances of the season.
Marcos Llorente looked good in the minutes he was given, he had a nice dispossession high up in Las Palmas half and then fed Ronaldo who nearly scored. Both Ceballos and Lucas were also active and involved when they entered the match, both looking to get as many touches as possible.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Madrid would have a penalty shout and Ramos would hit the crossbar. Nacho came blistering in and won the ball off Lemos within the six-yard box. Lemos, thinking he still had the ball, kicked out and brought Nacho to the floor. The referee waived away protests, as the Bernabeu demanded a call. Two minutes later, Madrid would be back with Asensio providing a low driven cut back pass for a lurking Ramos whose shot nailed the crossbar. It was inches from being 4-0.
Zidane will be pleased with the result and the second half. Madrid started slow and lacked rhythm and structure, but sorted things out for a dominant second half display. It was the type of match needed before the international break after a bleak week. There were many bright spots; among such bright spots was Vallejo’s solid debut in the Bernabeu. Both he and Sergio Ramos put in solid performances at the heart of the defense. Marcelo had his best match since returning from injury. Isco and Asensio grew in the second half and showed their talent. Both got on the score sheet and it was nice to see Marco find his shooting boots once again. Nacho was finally given the opportunity to start at right back and looked assured and confident. Unlike young Achraf, the Spaniard does not get caught in two minds and tactically keeps the defense in shape. It was a solid outing and Zidane will now recoup some key members of his squad—Bale, Varane, Keylor, and Carvajal—before the first trip to the Wanda Metropolitano.