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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 3 - 0 AS Roma

Real Madrid cruise in their Champions League opener. Gorgeous goals were scored along the way

Real Madrid v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Group G Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid win convincingly, 3 - 0 (Isco, Bale, Mariano), against an outclassed Roma side. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.

Real Madrid cruised against a tame Roma side — one that, while we appreciate their achievements against Barcelona last season, etching their place into the Tamudazo palace; were defanged and did little offensively. When they did threaten on the counter-attack (or a giveaway from the back), the defending was solid enough in transition, and Keylor Navas dealt with all his tests brilliantly.

With Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos getting a ‘break’ (neither started), Real Madrid continued their upbeat scheme with constant off-ball movement in the final-third and diagonal switching to right-sided runs of Gareth Bale and Dani Carvajal. The movement from Isco and Benzema in between the lines made Roma uncomfortable defensively, and those two created space from shooting positions for Bale and Kroos (both of whom were woeful with their shooting accuracy in the first half). Bale’s runs off the shoulder of Roma’s backline were always dangerous. He had good recognition to get to this spots, and the passing from Kroos and Modric to get the ball to him was really good. The only thing stopping Real Madrid from scoring early was a lack of efficiency during the final hurdle.

Something I had noted early was that Mariano would be a good fit in this particular match, as a lot of his game is based on latching onto passes to feast on high defensive lines, before he brings the ball up into the space behind the defenders. Lopetegui did bring Mariano in, eventually in the second half, and the Spanish-born striker had some nice touches — comfortably dropping deep as a ball-carrier, dribbling in tight spaces, and getting his teammates involved on the counter. And of course, he scored the brilliant third goal.

After a flurry of chances for Real Madrid, the off-ball movement and vertical outlets in zone-14 from Isco and Modric finally played dividends. Isco popped up at the top of the box to receive a pass from Kroos and was fouled. That resulted in the first goal:

Real Madrid kept pushing for more in the second half, and Bale’s surging runs on the counter finally came-through, as he scored a goal that can only be described as sex on the field. Don’t ask me exactly how that analogy holds up, but somewhere between Modric’s pass and Bale’s finish, babies were born:

Real Madrid closed out the match with relative comfort (with a few giveaways and sparsely defended counters as Real Madrid looked for more goals). Here are more bullet points from my notebook:

  • 93% passing accuracy for both Kroos and Modric. That doesn’t really mean anything. They both had a couple unnecessary giveaways unforced. More noteworthy: a lot of brilliant, surgical passes, and they combined for seven key passes.
  • Not unlike pre-season, Roma’s defending wasn’t good. Their high line was suicidal, as was their lack of coverage defending in transition.
  • The collective transition defending was encouraging tonight (not perfect, but encouraging) where it wasn’t last season. But the team did open up as they looked to add to their lead. I guess you live and die with that. This is a team that wants to put their throat on the opponent, and is usually pretty pragmatic about doing so, with their ability to hold possession and demoralize opponents.
  • A few really nice counter-pressing sequences in the first half, when the team looked more interested in hedging into a lower block with Benzema high up the pitch. But as the game unfolded, the team’s positioning allowed Casemiro, Modric, and Kroos to mop up possession in good areas to ignite attacks.
  • Casemiro had his classic giveaways in this one, but was generally good with his assignments, and had a couple really impressive challenges to mask some of Real Madrid’s vertical defending in the second half when things opened up a bit.
  • Isco was really incisive offensively.
  • We were worried about shot volume after Ronaldo’s departure. So far from what we’ve seen this season, the uptick in shots has gone up above normal for Bale and Benzema. Benzema not so much in this game, but Bale had six shots. He just needed to be a bit more efficient.
  • We’ll break it down further on tonight’s podcast.

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