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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 4 - 1 Al Ain

Real Madrid are the 2018 Club World Cup Champions!

Al Ain v Real Madrid: Final - FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images

Real Madrid beat Al Ain 4 - 1 (Modric, Llorente, Ramos, Nader OG; Shiotani) to win the Club World Cup. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast).

And 2018 comes to a close for Real Madrid. As I write this, Sergio Ramos is preparing to lift the Club World Cup trophy after Solari’s men conclude their last game of the calendar year with a win over Al Ain to win their third-straight World Championship.

And it was convincing. (We’ll get to that.)

But this match was all about one moment, where Real Madrid’s defensive midfielder harnessed the energy from his right foot the same way Thor’s hammer absorbs lightning:

That was a great way to shine some extra light on Marcos, who has been a standout Real Madrid player since his Champions League debut against Roma. Tonight, he was winning the ball high up the pitch, reading passing lanes, and coming out on top with strong challenges in midfield — the same things he’s been doing so well every match he’s played in. He was going to have a good shoutout post-game regardless; but the goal got people talking about him even more.

Apart from a couple horrendous defensive moments early in the match (one where Varane put in a last second challenge to mask sparse transition defending; and another where Carvajal’s uncomfortable cross-field pass to Marcelo was dealt with poorly by the Brazilian left-back, leading to an Al Ain break and goal-line clearance from Sergio Ramos), this was a routine win.

Al Ain didn’t defend as well as Kashima Antlers did in the semi-final. They allowed Real Madrid a lot of space on the flanks, and were nearly completely absent marking players on cut-backs. Lucas Vazquez, Benzema, and Bale could normally drift into channels in the half-space undetected, which gave Real Madrid a lot of good attacking opportunities.

If you missed this game, you can get a glimpse of the space Solari’s men had on the game’s opening goal, where Benzema laid the ball off to a wide open Modric, and the Croatian finished with a brilliant left-footed curler:

Al Ain were expected to use set-pieces as a tool to give Real Madrid problems offensively, given they couldn’t keep the ball to attack otherwise (and they did score from a corner against River after flooding the near-post with attackers), but their deliveries from dead-ball situation were really unimpressive. They did get some nice dribbling and passing sequences from Brazilian winger Caio — but little outside of that.

To be sure, after Llorente’s goal, this was a mere pick-up game. Real Madrid were attacking in waves — sending six or seven white shirts forward at a time without worrying much about facing counter-attacks the other way. Their third goal came through a classic Sergio Ramos header from a corner. Within the span of about 20 seconds, Ramos leapt and directed a header to the far post, then shushed the Al Ain fans in the stadium, did a Raul / Cristiano hybrid celebration, and gave Isco a big hug on the sidelines.

This could’ve been more than 4-1. Real Madrid outshot Al Ain 24-8. Benzema and Bale could’ve both squared the ball to each other thrice, but opted to shoot from an acute angle instead each time. Bale also had a header saved brilliantly from a corner, and Modric followed up an ensuing corner with a really well-hit volley which forced another great save. Overall, it was fun; and even though Al Ain weren’t the strongest opponent, it was nice to see some crisp passing sequences from Real.

On a side note, it’s been a blast covering Real Madrid for this website in 2018, and I just wanted to thank you all for being a part of this. Have a safe and happy Holidays!

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