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Real Madrid’s backup squad grind out tough win in Soria

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There is some left to be desired, but Real Madrid start off 2018 with a Copa del Rey win against second-division Numancia.

Numancia v Real Madrid - Copa Del Rey Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Gareth Bale made his first start in over 100 days on Thursday night’s Copa del Rey round of 16 match in Soria. The Welsh winger got off to a pretty sluggish start, as did the entire team.

Although madridistas around the world won’t be entirely relieved by this performance, I thought there were some rather encouraging moments. It’s important to keep in mind that today’s team is not the Real Madrid we saw against Barcelona, or will see against Celta on Sunday. In other words, this is not the team we are concerned about.

The team to be worried about is the full-strength Real Madrid that got dusted 3-0 by Barcelona in truly humiliating fashion at the Bernabeu on Christmas weekend. The one that has lost to Betis, Girona, and Tottenham this season. I’m worried about that team, who have scored less goals than Real Sociedad and are currently 14 points off the pace.

The starting lineup on Thursday night was expectedly made up of bench players. It surprisingly didn’t include many Castilla players, other than Tejero. As MARCA noted, Dani Carvajal was the only player to start who also started in the Clasico. We should see more Castilla players called up for Wednesday’s return leg in Madrid.

The Galacticos started off slow, but really grew into the game as the first half wore on. This group of players were essentially brand new to playing together as a unit, and Los Pajaritos took quick advantage and came out flying. After a real chance tested Kiko Casilla in the first half, Madrid made some adjustments and took over the match.

Lucas Vazquez had a great game, and really showed why he consistently deserves a spot on the first team. Notice I didn’t say ‘starting’ spot. He earned both penalties, and linked up well with Ceballos in midfield and Mayoral in attack.

In an otherwise event-less first half, Gareth Bale converted a penalty with ease and Madrid seemed startled at times by some quality from Numancia. Bale had a solid night, and Ceballos had moments that reminded us of his serious two-way potential in midfield.

The second half was the half I was expecting to see. Other than Numancia’s Diamanka getting sent off in the 60th minute, Zidane made the necessary moves to ensure Madrid would head into Wednesday’s return leg with a comfortable lead. After Isco and Kovacic came on for Ceballos and Bale, respectively, the midfielders made sure we controlled the remainder of the game.

There is still clear confusion from Zidane and the coaching staff as to the identity of Real Madrid’s midfield, as evidenced in the surprise start of Kovacic in the Clasico. There have been legitimate cases made for the removal of Casemiro and other midfield adjustments to give us solidity and consistency in that part of the game.

However, that’s a debate for a different day. Tonight we saw strong and encouraging performances from Ceballos, Vazquez, and the usual creativity from Asensio. Unfortunately, Marcos Llorente had a rather discouraging performance, and I’m not totally convinced he’s ready to run midfield for Real Madrid just yet.

After a marginal first half, Llorente had an egregious giveaway that almost turned into an embarrassing long-range goal had it not been for it repelling off the crossbar in the second half. Jesus Vallejo had a good game tonight, but Theo looked nervous and uncomfortable on numerous occasions whilst filling in for Marcelo.

After Vazquez earned a late second penalty that was converted by Isco, Achraf and Mayoral produced what was the best moment of the match in stoppage time. A great set-up play and cross from the Moroccan saw Borja redeem himself for his first half miss and seal the deal with the third goal of the night.

Zidane and Madrid accomplished exactly what they set out to do in Soria. The starting lineup was mixed up, new groupings and tactics were tried, and ultimately a 3-0 win should be positive momentum heading into a critical match at the Balaidos on Sunday in Vigo.

Match Facts

0.- Numancia: Munir; Medina, Ripa (Valcarce, min. 20) (Mateu, min. 46), Gutierrez, Dani Calvo; Diamanka, Larrea, Pere Milla, Grego (Inigo Perez, min. 63), Dani Nieto; Marin

3.- Real Madrid: Casilla; Carvajal, Vallejo, Nacho, Theo; Llorente, Ceballos (Isco, min. 74), Lucas; Bale (Kovacic, min. 62), Asensio (Achraf, min. 85), Mayoral

Goals: 0-1, min. 35: Bale (p); 0-2, min. 89: Isco (p); 0-3, min. 91: Mayoral

Referee: Estrada Fernandez

Yellow Cards: Diamanka (Min. 31) for Numancia, Larrea (Min. 38) for Numancia, Marin (Min. 52) for Numancia, Vallejo (Min. 59) for Real Madrid, Medina (Min. 82) for Numancia, Gutierrez (Min. 88) for Numancia, Kovacic (Min. 93) for Real Madrid

Red cards: Diamanka (Min. 60) for Numancia

Stadium: Los Pajaritos

Attendance: 8.727