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Immediate Reaction: Roma 0 - 2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid put in a good second half, topping Group G in the process

AS Roma v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Group G Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Roma lose 0 - 2 to Real Madrid (Bale, Vazquez) at the Olimpico. Solari’s men top Group G. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast.

Santiago Solari surprised everyone tonight, leaving Isco out of the squad while starting Marcos Llorente as the team’s anchor. Isco, it was reported, was completely fit, and was left out by Solari for technical reasons. Llorente, meanwhile, was a nice surprise, as the team clearly lacked a traditional anchor who has a more natural feel for getting into position and snuffing out attacks.

Llorente’s cameo was great. Until now, he’s played just 10 minutes this season (and played well in that tiny sample size), and tonight’s performance was a good testament to what that team desperately needed in Casemiro’s absence. Some of Llorente’s recoveries won’t show up on that stat sheet; but as soon as the sixth minute, he dispossessed a Roma player to start a counter attack, snuffed a Roma counter in the 11th, and was in good positions throughout the game defensively — something Ceballos (through no fault of his own) just couldn’t do consistently.

Llorente even had moments where he acted as a ball-carrier in transition. Some of his passing needed to be better. Despite looking comfortable dribbling out of tight spaces and playing short passes, his vertical distribution still needs polishing. Again, though, he had an important presence tonight.

Roma head coach Eusebio Di Francesco, as he did the last two times he faced Real Madrid, played a very high line. This caused his team a lot of problems at the Bernabeu earlier this season, and looked like it would be a mistake early on. Real Madrid started this game well in search of exploiting the line — the attack looked dynamic early, and the press was good — but the offside issues resurfaced, and Roma grew into the game and created more danger.

And Di Francesco’s men were the better team in the first half. For all of Real Madrid’s attacking opportunities, they couldn’t get high-percentage looks. They could only conjure a couple good shots — both outside the box — and every time they got into Roma’s area, they were swarmed, with little space to shoot. Roma, meanwhile, continually got in the area with good off-ball runs, were dangerous in transition, and had a golden opportunity just before the half-time whistle. Solari’s men dodged a bullet:

That sequence encapsulated Real Madrid’s problems this season well. It was a careless giveaway by Dani Carvajal (who killed two good attacks with his bad passing in the first half; though did have a couple really important defensive interventions), and Ramos was late to react to the run by Under. In essence: bad passing and careless defending.

Solari didn’t make any changes at half-time, but a mistake by Roma in the 47th minute led to a Gareth Bale goal, which changed the entire complexion of the game:

Things became easier for Real Madrid from that point. Solari’s men did have plenty of counter-attack opportunities. One of which led to the team’s second goal, on a really nice sequence:

It was routine after the second goal. Real Madrid didn’t have waves of attack, but they looked composed in circulating possession, and Roma really regressed. To be sure, the Romans did not defend particularly well in either match they faced Real Madrid.

A proud moment for all of us was when Fede Valverde came in to close out the game. He has a nice stabilizing presence, and can help on both ends of the field.

This has been one of Real Madrid’s worst seasons since the turn of the century, and they haven’t looked particularly good in Europe. Yet, since it’s the Champions League, put us down for 12 goals scored and two goals conceded after five games.

Also, get at me.

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