Real Madrid win 1 - 3 away to Leganes (Bustinza; Vazquez, Casemiro, Ramos), and climb to third place in La Liga. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.
Almost a month has passed since Leganes knocked Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey. Nothing can take that away from Asier Garitano’s men, even if they lost tonight’s match at Butarque. But, for Real Madrid, it was not just a chance for mini-revenge, it was a chance to leapfrog Valencia for third place in La Liga, shed their game-in-hand, and pull themselves within seven points of Atletico for second place (*insert eyes emoji*) in the standings.
Zidane opted to roll out the Kovacic - Casemiro double pivot for the second consecutive game, in a 4-2-3-1 of sorts. He also rested Gareth Bale to start (the controversy around this story continues to build, though I’m not entirely sure there’s anything there), as well as Cristiano Ronaldo. With Modric, Kroos, and Marcelo already out due to injury, this match was in many ways a banana peel against one of the most organized defensive sides in La Liga.
After a shaky start, where Unai Bustinza opened the scoring from a corner — taking advantage of some bad marking in the box in a sequence where neither Kiko Casilla nor Theo Hernandez could clear the ball off the line — Real Madrid’s performance normalized. Lucas Vazquez was tremendous in the surge, setting the tone defensively with his press and tracking, slinging key passes, and constantly moving off the ball in the final third. He equalized five minutes after Real Madrid conceded — with Casemiro flicking the ball into the onrushing Vazquez after some nice build-up from Karim Benzema and Mateo Kovacic. Zidane’s men imposed themselves on the match, taking advantage of Leganes’ uncharacteristically open scheme, and 18 minutes later, Vazquez returned the favour to Casemiro — sliding him in on a one-two sequence and setting up the Brazilian for the match-winner.
Casemiro was involved in both goals in the first half, clearly. It’s not an ideal role for him to play so high up the pitch, to be sure, but Leganes gave him space to bomb forward. Pulling strings in all this was Mateo Kovacic. Everything Real Madrid built started with him. He reminded us of his ball-carrying abilities, and ended the half with the best passing accuracy of anyone on the team. That first half, all in all, reminded us of Real Madrid’s b-team of last season, the one that blitzed so many fringe La Liga teams.
In the second half, Real Madrid suffered (naturally) while Leganes grew into the game; but they weathered the storm, and a Sergio Ramos penalty in the 90th minute put this match to bed. Real Madrid continue to get results, with the only slip up since that 7-1 win over Depor being the 2-2 draw away to Levante. This has been an important streak for Los Blancos.
Some bullet points from Kiyan’s notepad
- As noted above, Leganes’ first-half collapse was surprising, given how good they’ve been defensively this season. Though, credit should be given to Real Madrid’s front six. They moved constantly without the ball, created passing triangles, and pressed really well
- Marco Asensio’s movement was great in the first half, but his final product (at times down to bad luck, and at other times just down to inefficiency) was lacking.
- Two standouts: Lucas Vazquez and Mateo Kovacic. The former led the team in key passes and defended well; and the latter funnelled possession for Real Madrid and set the tone.
- Theo had moments of rawness (dribbling with his head down, a couple moments of dispossession), but grew into the match, and his strength was important in winning challenges in key areas.
- Garitano brought on Gumbau and Siovas for Mantovani and Ruben Perez at half-time, and though they were like-for-like subs, it helped inject some energy in Leganes, who grew into the match in the second half. Nice to see Real Madrid grind it out again, as has been the trend in the past few matches.
- Nice to see my son get five mins of playing time.