Marco Asensio scored a vital late goal at Butarque tonight. The majority of this quick reaction was written before the goal, but the main points still stand even after the final whistle. As always, this reaction is just the bare bones. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and match review.
Well, this is a pandemic. We’re getting to a stage where it’s really difficult to blame individual players. Whether it’s the first team, the reserve team, or a hybrid of both, the problems, generally, persist — the team almost never looks like it’s going to score a goal. The attack is defanged, the build-up laboured, and while the team defended well for the majority of the game, they started to look vulnerable again when Leganes began to test Zinedine Zidane’s men.
Zidane opted to rest a bunch of key players, including every member of the ‘BBC’ (hinting, perhaps, we’ll finally see all three of them against Deportivo on the weekend), and gave faith to his younger reserves who’ve been a part of this year’s Copa run. In the first half, Real Madrid looked fine, meaning they recycled possession continually, controlled the tempo, and weren’t threatened defensively. They defended by holding the ball, and apart from El Zhar occasionally testing Theo Hernandez on the left flank, they weren’t threatened.
Hardly surprising, that. Leganes this season have been organized defensively, and struggle to score goals. Beauvue and Szymanowski have been far from clinical, and Asier Gartiano has rode his defensive line all season.
Despite Real Madrid’s control of the ball, they couldn’t capitalize. There was no verticality to the scheme. Apart from diagonal switches to the flanks, the team relied on some wonky off-ball runs from Marcos Llorente high up the pitch (this just isn’t his game), and sporadic movement from Marco Asensio and Borja Mayoral. Even when the runs were good, the team just couldn’t pick out open outlets, and Leganes were more than comfortable defending in a 4-5-1 without the ball.
The only clear-cut chance in the first half came when Mateo Kovacic — admittedly, not known for scoring goals — inexplicably misaimed his shot alone on goal after Ruben Perez gifted it to him.
An all too familiar trend this season, is Real Madrid folding in the second half. Tonight wasn’t as extreme as the games against Barcelona and Villarreal, but it was clear that instead of rectifying their first half problems, they regressed. Leganes grew into the game, the team (particularly Carvajal, Theo, and Kovacic) started to misplace passes, and the team lacked coverage on the flanks. Garitano’s men had chances to take the lead, and were really making it a point to unnerve Theo and Carvajal. Amid all this, Marcos Llorente nearly scored an own goal by redirecting a set-piece onto the crossbar.
Things did shift, ultimately, when Zidane brought on Modric and Isco for Llorente and Ceballos. Some dynamism and flair came with them. The team started to make a few sharper decisions offensively, and Marco Asensio scored in the 98th minute — a beautiful finish from a Theo cross.
In a vacuum, this was a great result for Real Madrid: An away goal, a clean sheet, and back home for the second leg.
A quick note: I’m devastated for Jesus Vallejo, who left early in the first half with a hamstring injury. For obvious reasons, it’s exciting seeing him paired with Varane, but there is some real anxiety concerns over Vallejo’s perpetual health. Animo Jesus!