We’re currently in the middle of a roller-coaster ride at Real Madrid! One that has resulted in Santiago Solari taking charge of the first team... His first game was played tonight, on Halloween of course, in the first Copa Del Rey game of the season against high flying Segunda División B side Melilla.
Solari picked an appropriate squad for this one, and the line-up was also decent. Navas started in goal, whilst Javier Sánchez got the nod at centre back with captain Sergio Ramos. Reguilón and Odriozola played at full back. Vinícius Júnior formed part of the front three. Madrid came out 4-0 winners, and my player ratings hopefully reflected the great performance:
Real Madrid XI against Melilla: Navas, Odriozola, Sánchez, Ramos(C), Reguilón, Llorente, Ceballos, Asensio, Vinícius Júnior, Vázquez & Benzema.— Managing Madrid (@managingmadrid) October 31, 2018
Bench: Courtois, Nacho, De la Fuente, Casemiro, Valverde, Feuillassier & González.#MMLive pic.twitter.com/GGo5P8bGNd
Keylor Navas — 7: Another reasonably quiet game for the Costa Rican. He saved whatever came his way, and was involved in a lot of passing sequences under pressure, to which he responded well. Panicked a couple of times when pressed to hard, but on the whole a good showing, as to be expected!
Álvaro Odriozola — 9: Man of the match for me today. His best game in a Madrid shirt so far. With a goal and two assist to his name, Álvaro ran the show on the right hand side, providing constant danger with his unpredictable range of crosses into the box. He was given the responsibilities to help carry the ball from defence into attack, and did that almost perfectly at times. Perhaps this performance can spark a change of fortune and help him to get more game time in the near future.
Javier Sánchez — 7: A Real Madrid debut for Javier Sánchez. And a good one at that. Whilst not as unchallenged as Navas, it was still a pretty muted task. On the ball he was as confident as ever, but in the tackle he was at times a bit shaky. He was particularly lucky with one penalty shout, where he recklessly swung a leg out behind one of the opposition attackers. Still, a very assured game by the promising youngster.
Sergio Ramos — 7.5: Captained the side from the start. Was as solid as you would expect him to be against a side of division three quality. Came off at half time after Madrid secured a comfortable lead.
Sergio Reguilón — 8: Another strong game by Reguilón on the left. Proving himself as a very able understudy to Marcelo. Put a huge shift in constantly being an outlet offensively, but rarely got caught out defensively. There was one moment in the first half that could have seen him punished, but from then on he looked a lot more composed. Could have had quite a few assists, and even a goal towards the end with a well saved effort that ended up being bundled in by Odriozola.
Marcos Llorente — 7.5: Controlled the game and stood out defensively a lot for me. Won the ball back in midfield very often. A vital part to Madrid’s passing play as you might predict. Got forward on occasion and had a decent pop at goal.
Dani Ceballos — 8: One of my favourite players to watch in this game. In the first half he looked to link up the team with his movement and passing after a slow start. Also put on a skill show and created a fair few chances that were squandered by the forwards. Missed a couple of good chances himself, but remained one of the team’s brighter players.
Marco Asensio — 7: The best game I’ve seen him have in a while, but still didn’t really impose himself as much as he should have. Still bagged a goal and looked a threat. Was deployed in the middle for this one, and Solari’s idea looked to have worked. Picked up the ball and built up the play from one section to the other very well.
Lucas Vázquez — 7.5: A modest exhibition from Lucas, but also a strange one. He looked very sharp and provided some very important plays. There were times however when he just seemed to switch off like a robot. At one point he was through on goal and seemed to decide against scoring in favour of dribbling away from the target. Another random moment saw him completely freeze in-front of the ball and seemingly allow the opposition a free regain of possession in an attacking area... Still a cracking performance from the Spaniard however, and one I’d like to see him build on.
Vinícius Júnior — 8.5: Vinícius sparkled on his first senior start for Real Madrid. The closest he came to getting a goal was a powerful strike that hit the bar, but he did manager an assist for Asensio’s goal. At times his decision making was pretty poor, particularly in the final third - but he received a lot of the ball and he also demonstrated that this aspect of his game was rapidly improving with some wonderful forward passes. The game was of course not without the usual flicks and tricks we all love seeing, but this performance on the whole was more collective, and will leave fans surely wanting more.
Karim Benzema — 7.5: Linked up well with his fellow attackers, especially Vinícius on multiple occasions. Broke both the deadlock and the ice with his tap in, as the game was looking quite equal before that. Was substituted at half time when his job here was done.
Nacho Fernández — 7: Came on for Ramos and took the armband. Looked good in the second half, surging forwards a few times - and acting as a brick wall on the back line. Of course he has faced harder tests, but you can only take every game as it comes. And he took this substitute’s cameo without fail.
Fede Valverde — 6.5: I’m a bit gutted that Fede didn’t start this game, but he did come on at half time and gave a satisfactory performance. Looked to control midfield with his hearty runs, and kept the ball moving whenever it came his way. Still need more Fede please, Santiago!
Cristo González — 8: I was craving this debut throughout the second half. I finally got my wish after the third goal went in, and I was not disappointed. Cristo came on for Asensio, and immediately got some nice touches in, as he looked to get to grips with his new surroundings. His link-up play during his short stint on the field looked great, although it likely helped having a few Castilla faces around him. He capped off his debut with his first Real Madrid goal right at the death, heading in Odriozola’s cross! After all of the good work he has put in with Castilla over the past year or so, there were few candidates as deserving of some first team interaction - and he made it count. Hopefully this is just the start for Cristo González.
A very positive result, to go along with an even better performance. If I was to rate Santiago Solari based on his first game, his score would be touching that juicy 10 mark. The squad call-up’s were great, his line-up was strong, and his substitutions (something that has still been pretty questionable at Castilla) were excellent. It was incredibly reassuring to see him carry his new found tactics used with Castilla this season into the first team, and I actually really enjoyed watching it. I feel like his strong relations with Castilla were the sole reasoning behind some of his decisions, and that only benefited everyone.
Of course this was merely his first game, against a Segunda División B side and the result is hardly surprising. But it is so reassuring to see him successfully leap over that first hurdle with a collection of good judgements. With Valladolid up next, followed by Plzeň in the Champions League, I am still very worried that he may land the job without any real challenge. The Celta Vigo game carries a lot of significance for this reason, so it will be very intriguing to see how he fares against some much stronger opposition. Away from Solari though, I am now looking forward to the Melilla return leg at the Bernabéu, where the players can play with complete freedom. Hopefully that squad will be filled to the brink with Castilla players!