On an afternoon where they were hardly troubled, Real Madrid extended their La Liga lead. Espanyol did little to worry the hosts, as the visitors only put 1 shot on target all game. Real Madrid dominated the ball to the tune of nearly 70% possession. However, while Espanyol were toothless in attack, they were solid in defense, and frustrated Los Blancos for large stretches of the match.
Perhaps more important than the result was the return of the Welsh Wonder Gareth Bale, whose return to the squad will be a significant boost in Madrid’s push for trophies. The first half hour of the match was uneventful, until Alvaro Morata opened the scoring in the 33rd minute after an excellent cross from Isco. The goal is sure to be important for the Spanish striker, who is rumored to be unsettled in the capitol. For nearly the rest of the match, Madrid were wasteful, and failed to kill off their Catalan opponents. The whites would have to wait until the 83rd minute, when the returning Gareth Bale finally put the match away for good.
Kiko Casilla: 6
Had almost nothing to do while playing against his former club. Saved a weak shot from Hernan Perez, and did well while Madrid were in possession.
Nacho Fernandez: 7
Another fine display from the man who has impressed us all season long. Defended well, and made positive attacking runs down the left flank. While he is no Marcelo in attack, the Spanish defender showed yet again how reliable he is in any position on the backline. Unfortunately experienced muscle pains before being subbed off late in the match.
Because Espanyol did so little going forward, Pepe had next to nothing to do. Solid when called upon, but should have done better with his free header off a first-half corner.
Raphael Varane: 6.5
Much like Pepe, Varane had little to do while defending. Showed off his usual composure on the ball, and distributed effectively.
Toni Kroos: 7
Deployed in a more defensive role, the ever-consistent German put in another good display. Passing the ball with 93% accuracy, Kroos once again impressed with his ability to move the ball. Although he was not able to venture forward often, he was content with pulling the strings from the back.
You never really understand how great Kroos' diagonal balls are until you see other world class players fail making to make the same pass.— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) February 18, 2017
Mateo Kovacic: 6.5
Despite bleeding heavily from a cut under his eye, Kovacic fought off a head to head collision to put in a good shift for Zidane’s men. Won more tackles than anyone else on the pitch, and was his usual lively self. Replaced by Casemiro with half an hour remaining.
Set up both of Real Madrid’s goals against a solid Espanyol side. When Espanyol decided to give Isco space on the wing, the attacking midfielder made them pay by putting in a diamond of a cross for Morata to put Real ahead. Also helped put the final nail in the coffin when he played Gareth Bale through on goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo: 6.5
Did well to create for his teammates, and really should have picked up an assist. Much to every Madridista’s delight, at times looked like he had turned back the clock to his younger days. Was dangerous on the ball, and even took this poor defender’s soul.
Was unlucky not to have his name on the score sheet when he was incorrectly denied a penalty at the end of the match.
Lucas Vazquez: 6
A typical Lucas Vazquez performance. Energetic and defensive, but at times lacked end product. Made a bad decision to shoot when he should have squared the ball for Ronaldo.
Alvaro Morata: 7.5
In a match where he needed to show his worth to Zidane, for the most part Morata showed off his positive attributes. While not as good as Benzema at linking up with teammates, Morata put himself in dangerous positions all afternoon. Alvaro brilliantly finished Isco’s cross, and put in a dangerous ball to Ronaldo that was just inches too high.
The Brazilian was his usual defensive self after being brought on for Kovacic with 30 minutes remaining. Casemiro passed the ball well, but failed to recreate his midweek magic when he decided to take a shot. Overall, not enough time to greatly affect the match.
Gareth Bale: 7
What more can be said about the Welsh Samurai? After missing nearly 3 months with a severe injury, the winger returned to a roaring Santiago Bernabéu. It took just 13 minutes for him to get on the score sheet after using his pace to get behind the defense. While he did not look 100% yet, it will be only a matter of time before he is once again terrifying defenses all over Europe for 90 minutes. His return comes at a perfect time for Los Blancos, who must travel to Valencia, Villarreal, and Napoli within a 2-week stretch.
Came on late for the injured Nacho Fernandez, but had no time to make his mark on the game.
Man of the Match: Isco