The defending champions opened their UCL campaign for the 2017/2018 season at the Santiago Bernabeu against Cyprus side APOEL. Zidane rolled out one of his strongest line-ups’ available, while giving a rest to Toni Kroos. The rest would be short lived as Mateo Kovacic came off injured 20 minutes into the match. Despite the early goal from Ronaldo - which featured a blistering counter attack from the trio of Isco, Bale, and Ronaldo - APOEL held their ground and put in a strong defensive display. Gareth Bale was ever present on the left wing and continually put in dangerous crosses. One was converted into a goal and another that was too much too handle for the APOEL defense and resulted in a handball for Ronaldo’s second from the spot. An early goal in each half had left APOEL with an impossible mountain to climb. Ultimately, Madrid kept knocking on the door with a few disallowed goals. Sergio Ramos would put the nail in the coffin as he put away the third with an acrobatic Sergio Ramos-esque bicycle kick. A convincing 3-0 win to start the UCL campaign will be a good boost to Zidane and the boys as they return to La Liga action this weekend against high-flying Real Sociedad.
Keylor Navas—6: The Costa Rican had very little to do in this match. APOEL kept their defensive structure and allowed Madrid to have possession. Handled a quick free kick early in the first half, but had little else to do as he earned his first Champions League clean sheet of the season.
Dani Carvajal—6: Still has yet to hit top gear this season. Put in some quality crosses, but was not as active in the offensive third as fans have come to expect. Was booked for a late challenge which may come to haunt him later in the group or knockout stages, but overall locked down the right side.
Nacho—6.5: Like the rest of the backline, dealt with the minimal threat APOEL provided this match with ease. Comes into each match, regardless of opponent, with great professionalism and intensity. The cantera product’s role continues to grow and he can take confidence from his performances in the last three matches.
Sergio Ramos—7.5: The captain has scored SEVENTY goals for Real Madrid. Incredible statistic for a defender. He led the backline and won every aerial battle. He looked to keep the tempo of the match fast with quick and firm passes out of the back. Scored the third and final goal as he somehow found himself in a center forward position and acrobatically maneuvered his body to score a bicycle kick.
Marcelo—7: A good performance from Marcelo. Given APOEL’s tough defensive structure, Marcelo had the license to push forward and looked to attack and connect with Bale or Isco down the left flank as often as possible.
Casemiro—7: The biggest compliment to Casemiro is that it is apparent when he is not in the team. Evidence to this comes in the weekend performance. He does his job perfectly and his discipline is improving. Covers both Marcelo and Carvajal and has a natural ability to win the ball cleanly when slide tackling. Did not offer much offensively, but didn’t need to as his job was to let the rest play and cover any counter attacks. Zidane can always count on the Brazilian for that role.
Luka Modric—8: Luka did not put a foot wrong in this match. He controls the midfield and is always an option for either the defensive line to play out or to connect with the attacking trio. Offered a perfect ball across goal for Ronaldo to finish off his hat trick, but the Portuguese was rightly called offside.
Mateo Kovacic—6: The Croatian was given the opportunity to start in place of Toni Kroos and his direct dribbling would have helped break down the APOEL defensive lines. Unfortunately, he was injured 20 minutes into the match and looks like he will be out a minimum of 3 weeks.
Isco—6.5: A tale of two halves for Isco. His close control was a joy to behold in the first half. It was hard to pinpoint his position in today’s formation. Found himself in a false nine at times, on the left wing, on the right, or even deep in the middle. The Spaniard has all of Zidane’s faith and the freedom to roam as he pleases. He led the counter attack on the first goal, driving APOEL back before feeding Bale. His influence waned in the second half and he should have scored on a guilt edge opportunity provided via a Ronaldo back heel pass. Got caught holding on to the ball a bit too long and was replaced by Dani Ceballos 71 minutes into the match.
Gareth Bale—8.5: The Welshman seems to be growing in confidence. His performances are improving with each match. Looked very comfortable on the left hand side today and whipped in some brilliant crosses. It was his inch perfect low driven cross to Ronaldo, again from the left flank, that opened the scoring. APOEL then conceded a penalty via a handball. It was caused once again by a Gareth Ball cross from the left wing. Gareth has a claim for three assists on the night as his header back across goal set Ramos up for a bundled in bicycle kick. There have been fears over his possible change in running form and his top speed, but he looked dangerous on every break tonight. Another performance of this quality will be needed over the weekend at Anoeta!
Cristiano Ronaldo—9: The legend returned and he returned in his favorite competition. He was a constant threat and always on the lookout for a goal. He scored two, one from a perfect Gareth Bale cross and the other from the penalty spot. Was extremely unlucky not to get the hat trick as he had two goals rightly disallowed. The Portuguese played in an advanced striker position and kept himself in the box always hungry for a good cross.
Toni Kroos—8: Toni came in for the injured Kovacic and the German machine dominated the midfield. He misplaced one pass all night and APOEL could do nothing but foul him to try and stop his influence. Personally would have liked to see him rested more, but the German helped orchestrate Madrid’s dominating win.
Dani Ceballos—7: The youngster made his Champions League debut tonight and hopefully it will be the first of many for Madrid. Came in with the match put away, but looked to get on the ball as often as he could and had two defensive splitting passes that nearly found Ronaldo. His talent is so apparent even in a brief 20 minute cameo and fans can be excited for what is to come from young Ceballos.
Borja Mayoral—6.5: Came on for the last ten minutes of the match and can rightly feel robbed of a goal from the linesman. In the 92nd minute, Cristiano Ronaldo slotted the ball across goal and Mayoral beat his man to put the ball in the back of the net. Ronaldo was called offside, but replays show that he was in fact onside.
Zinedine Zidane—7.5: Zizou always takes the Champions League seriously, regardless of opponent and rolled out one his strongest starting XI’s. The team were patient despite APOEL’s rigid defensive tactics. Even with the recent string of draws, the team never got anxious and put APOEL away over the course of 90 minutes. It was good to see youngsters like Ceballos and Mayoral get some time late in the game.
Man of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo
Honorable Mention: Gareth Bale