Real Madrid lose 1 - 2 at home to Leganes (Benzema; Eraso, Gabriel) and get eliminated from Copa del Rey on away goals. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and match review.
Mid-way through the second half, with Real Madrid badly needing a goal, the team cleared a corner and set off on the counter attack. They had numbers in transition. Isco acted as the ball-carrier and found Marco Asensio as an outlet on the left wing, high up the pitch. When Asensio looked up with the ball at his feet, he saw an ocean of green shirts. The counter was gone. Leganes had blitzed back to defend.
And that was a general theme of Leganes, not only in this game — but this season in general. They are an organized defensive side, and tonight at the Bernabeu, they defended really well — plugging gaps, and conceding little space, and virtually no clear-cut chances in the first half.
What they are not known for, is their offense. They have no prolific goal-scorers, and are one of the worst offensive teams in La Liga. Yet, tonight, they created more chances early on, and continued to threaten the entire game. Real Madrid’s transition defense was laboured once again, and they relied on last ditch interventions — mostly from Nacho, but also by players like Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Llorente, both of whom had moments in this match where their rawness showed.
It was hard to see just where the goals were going to come from for Real Madrid. Karim Benzema’s goal was nicely taken, and Zidane’s men shouldn’t need more than what was already on the field (in theory), to beat this Leganes team — but there weren’t many game-changers on the bench either. Zidane opted not to include Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, or Marcelo as safety nets. Although he did bring on Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal, and Borja Mayoral in the second half — his three most threatening players offensively.
The team looked much, much better when Modric came on in particular. He slung some efficient vertical passes and tried to carry the offensive load, but Real Madrid couldn’t capitalize on their remaining chances, and Leganes defended well too, for the most part — causing Real Madrid to frantically look for openings while recycling possession.
Some bullet points from Kiyan’s notebook:
- Leganes’ two goals: Eraso opened the scoring with a golazo (albeit with a ton of space in front of him, and an absolute gift of a giveaway from Achraf which Nacho couldn’t control). On the second goal, Gabriel just outmuscled Theo on a corner.
- I didn’t think Achraf was as bad as people on Twitter made him out to be. The giveaway was shockingly bad, yes, but it was also his read that enabled Real Madrid to win possession which led to Benzema’s goal. Not his best day, but not on the level of some of these ‘send him to Juvenil Z’ takes I’ve seen.
- The team looked half-asleep to start the game. Marcos Llorente was misplacing and forcing some unnecessary passes. Ditto Sergio Ramos and Nacho. It took time to starting finding their rhythm, but by the time they started pulling some strings, Leganes had already bunkered up and closed all the channels.
- At no point did I feel Real Madrid were going to make a comeback. Call me a pessimist, and I try not to shoehorn these opinions into my reactions here, but it’s a sharp, sharp contrast to how I (and I’m sure you), felt last season.
- Hats off to Leganes. They should be really proud of how they defended tonight. They were superb.