Real Madrid win 4 - 2 (Benzema, Cabral OG, Sergio Ramos [PK], Dani Ceballos; Hugo Mallo, Mendez ) away to Celta Vigo in Vigo. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.
Santiago Solari embarked on his first real test as Real Madrid manager, an away trip to Vigo where Real Madrid have struggled in the past. In the wake of the Barcelona result, a 4-3 victory by Real Betis in the Camp Nou, Solari would look to do what his predecessor could not, capitalize on Barcelona’s stumble. Madrid started the match in their traditional 4-3-3 shape with Lucas Vazquez given the nod over both Isco and Asensio. It seems the Argentine, Solari, is in search of the ever elusive “equilibro” (equilibrium) that Carlo Ancelotti so often touted while in charge of Real Madrid thus the nod for Vazquez.
It always seems to be a wet, cold, and dark night when Madrid play in Balaidos, but for once it was Madrid, rather than Celta, who were quickest out of the gates. Karim Benzema had two early opportunities within the first few minutes of the match. First, it was Alvaro Odriozola surging down the right flank and cutting the ball back for the Frenchman. Quickly there after, it was a herculean throw-in from Gareth Bale which caught the whole Celta defense off-guard and put Benzema in clear through on goal, but his volley just trickled wide. The tone was set by Solari’s men, it would be a fast pace and physical encounter.
Celta would respond to that tone with a tough tackle from Maxi Gomez in the seventh minute on Casemiro, which would ultimately force Solari to reshuffle his midfield. The Brazilian tried to play on, but in the end was forced off as it was clear he was in discomfort. Dani Ceballos was the chosen substitute, and interestingly played as the single pivot, a position he does have some familiarity with as he has played there before for both the Spanish U19’s and Real Betis. Mere seconds after Casemiro’s departure, Celta Vigo hit the post off a corner kick—a warning to Madrid as they would quickly need to reorganize. There were battles all over the pitch—Mallo vs Bale, Kroos vs Mendez, but none tougher than the challenge for Ramos and Nacho with Iago Aspas and Maxi Gomez forming Celta’s frontline. Maxi Gomez, in particular, put himself about looking to stir the pot with the short-tempered Sergio Ramos. The Celta team as a whole began to show signs of frustrations with a lot of chippy fouls and ill-timed tackles.
Throughout the opening half, Madrid looked to execute a high press off of Celta’s goal kicks, but if Celta were able to beat that press, the team quickly dropped and changed their shape into a deep lying defensive 4-1-4-1 set up. Both Bale and Vazquez are expected to have a two way presence in Solari’s system. After missing two early opportunities, the third time was the charm for Benzema, as Luka Modric played an inch perfect ball over the top which the Frenchman caressed—while turning his body 180— and then kept his composure to slot the ball home. Madrid’s dominance continued to grow as the half wore on. Lucas Vazquez and Karim Benzema combined down the right, only for the Frenchman to drive a low roller across the eighteen which Toni Kroos got on the end of, but somehow missed an open net. Another wrinkle was forced into Solari’s plans as the impressive Sergio Reguilon was forced off with an injury at the end of the first half. Castilla captain Javi Sanchez, the last fit defender in the squad, slotted into the center back role with Nacho moving to left back.
The second half picked up right where the first had ended with electrifying pace and intensity. Benzema hit the cross bar minutes after the half began and that would be a warning sign to Celta on what was to come from Big Benz. A high press, with both Odriozola and Benzema robbing the ball off Celta’s backline, gave Karim the opportunity to work his margic. Another brilliant display of his dribbling skills, similar to his midweek exploits, created enough space to rip another shot which deflected into the back of the net. Despite the two goal cushion, Celta did not back down. An hour into the match, Hugo Mallo responded for the hosts with a beautiful one-timed volley goal. Hugo Mallo found acres of space between Javi Sánchez and Sergio Ramos. Sánchez was too preoccupied with Aspas, when enough covered was provided by Odriozola and the youngster, Sánchez, needed to close the gap between himself and Ramos. The Castilla product was thrown into the fire and never really looked comfortable (**note: he did make a couple of nice sliding challenges to end a Celta attack). He lacked conviction on when to step out and when to drop off and took the Madrid backline out of shape on a number of occasions. All that being said, Mallo’s run should have been tracked (likely by Kroos or Bale—yet to see replays), but Casemiro may have had a chance in plugging that space had he still been on the pitch. As the injury crisis could not seem to get any worse, Nacho was the latest to fall victim. This time, Marco Asensio was the chosen substitute and Lucas Vazquez was forced to move in the backline at left back. Equilibro went out the door, as Madrid lost all control and Celta Vigo countered straight down the throat of Madrid who desperately lacked a defensive presence in midfield and any familiarity from the backline. It was chaos from the 70th minute on to the 80th, until Odriozola, again bombing forward, made his way into box and drew a foul. The ensuing penalty kick was dispatched, paneka-style once again, by Sergio Ramos. Cabral’s night went from bad to worse after his own goal, he clattered into another Madrid player and drew his second yellow, leaving Celta to end the match with 10 men.
Santiago Solari has not played premier opposistion, but the same could be said of Julen Lopetegui who did not get the same type of results as the Argentine. All signs point to the coach being stripped of the “interim” title until at least Christmas. The Argentine passed his first real test as Real Madrid first team manager despite a mounting injury crisis. It is now 15 goals scored, 2 conceded, and 4 wins from 4 for the Argentine.
*At finishing this reaction, Dani Ceballos scored the fourth goal in the 90th minute and it was an absolute golazo—a belter of a shot from outside the box which dipped into the top corner. Mendez, the recent Spain NT call up, scored the final goal for Celta Vigo in the 93rd minute.
-Sergio Ramos with a captains performance, stepped up after the Reguilón injury to shepard Javi Sánchez through the game. Did well to keep his composure despite the antics from Maxi Gomez.
-Reguilón crossing continues to impress and his overall performance was noteworthy once again. A shame he had to leave through injury.
-Karim Benzema finding form with 3 goals in his last 2 matches (nearly 5 goals after hitting the cross bar in the 49th minute and the second goal going down as an own goal). He now needs to find consistency with his form.
-Luka Modric’s best game since his return from the World Cup. Solari has placed Modric back in his pure interior central midfield role rather than the advanced role that Lopetegui was trying to carve out for the Croatian.
-Odriozola was involved in a lot of good offensive play—part of the high press which won the ball for Madrid’s second goal and earned the penalty kick late in the 81st minute. His speed and energy make him such a weapon down the flank.