Real Madrid defeat Girona 6 - 3 (Ronaldo x4, Vazquez, Bale; Stuani x2, Juanpe). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.
There was a scare (or two), but Real Madrid deservedly picked up three points after they bested Girona over 90 minutes. Pablo Machin’s men had a few brilliant moments (a couple routine Stuani headers, among them), but with Real Madrid’s direct approach in full-swing, Griona were never going to outscore Zidane’s men. Cristiano Ronaldo is in full unicorn mode right now, Benzema continues to string key passes, and the surrounding cast — Kroos, Kovacic, Asensio, and Vazquez — all continually looked to play vertical to pick out the great off-ball movement in the final third.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Machin would approach this game given how big it was for Girona. In the last big match they took part in -- a trip to the Camp Nou -- Machin deviated from his winning-formula. He opened his team up, played a high line, and got roasted into oblivion. Afterwards, he explained they wanted to play their own football and roll the dice. Peculiar. What’s given them success is their own brand of football, and their own brand was not that. Their 3-4-3 has proven organized and pragmatic. Fantastic, intelligent players all around the pitch — Maffeo, Stuani (assassin), Portu (a La Liga revelation), Pons, Mojica, and others — have all looked great in this scheme. It seemed Machin learnt from that visit to the Camp Nou. Tonight they sat in a deeper block and looked to counter.
To be sure, they couldn’t breathe for the majority of the first half, where Real Madrid looked crisp and vertically incisive. Ronaldo opened the scoring after a square-pass from Kroos. Then, Kroos played a brilliantly disguised through-pass to Lucas Vazquez, whose goal was incorrectly ruled offside. It should’ve been 2-0.
Instead, Girona won a free-kick, and Stuani (one of the deadliest scorers with his head in Europe this season) was left unmarked to level the scoring. I’d have to watch another reply to see exactly what went wrong there. It seemed, at first glance, that Carvajal got lost in a screen of players while Stuani broke free. For the remainder of the half, momentum seemed to shift ever so slightly. Real Madrid regressed a bit in their confidence and verticality, while Girona’s counter-attacks became a bit more dangerous.
It wasn’t anything out-of-control, though, and Real Madrid’s response in the second half was very good. Benzema misplaced a few passes this game, which made the Bernabeu a bit restless, but he strung together a couple beautiful key passes in the final third, including the assist to Ronaldo to make it 2-1.
The second half was relatively comfortable for Real Madrid en route to a 6 - 3 win; but there were blips:
Bullet points from Kiyan’s notebook
- I liked what I saw from the front six offensively. As previously mentioned, the offense was really fluid and crisp. It was direct, quick, and vertical. Everyone played a part in this with their movement and quick play. Particularly noteworthy: Kroos (112 touches, most on the field, beautiful passing all night, and good interventions defensively) and Cristiano Ronaldo (four goals, unicorn, duh).
- Benzema had a polarizing game, but did have a hand in several key offensive sequences, including the go-ahead goal, and Real Madrid’s third. Espinosa probably should’ve intercepted Benzema’s pass to Ronaldo before Vazquez scored, but it was a really good pass none-the-less.
- That Mojica / Carvajal clash was pretty fun and heated. Dani dealt well, generally, but also (unfortunately) had a rough game. He was bested by Stuani twice, and gave away the free-kick which led to the equalizer.
- Aaaand, with that, Real Madrid’s set-piece defending, was, um, not good. Carvajal had it rough, but Nacho left Juanpe completely open on Girona’s third goal.
- Not surprising, but Bale and Modric both came on and did good things, showing no signs of rust returning from their injuries. They combined nicely for Real Madrid’s fifth.
- Post-game podcast coming your way tonight with Gabe and myself.