After a relatively uneventful first half, Real Madrid surged into momentum in the second half, in what turned into an edge-of-your seat finish.
But let’s start chronologically. Solari decided to start Reguilon at left-back again, with Lucas Vazquez returning to the starting line-up following his suspension, and Karim Benzema returning from injury to form an attacking trident with the in-form Vinicius Jr.
Part of the reason why the first half was uneventful was down to Real Madrid’s overall defensive solidity. After giving the ball away in the first few seconds, forcing Ramos to make a crucial intervention to avoid a disastrous start a la Sociedad, the team showed its conservative nature. While they circulated possession and moved higher up the pitch than they did against Betis, they also made sure there was always coverage on their left flank, and there was a clear game plan to ensure Sevilla don’t get Jesus Navas going — probably part of the blueprint which saw Reguilon start over Marcelo. (Reguilon was excellent, tonight, as a two-way presence, pragmatically picking his spots offensively and having good defensive positioning.)
Sevilla tried to go to their right flank often, but Dani Ceballos, Sergio Ramos (these two were outstanding off the ball tonight, and were met with thunderous applause for their ball retentions), and Sergio Reguilon teamed up well the thwart anything Sarabia or Navas did out there. Apart from a counter-press breaking down in the 22nd minute, leaving a Sevilla break, the team looked solid defensively.
On the other end of the pitch, they weren’t creating many chances, but at least were fluid. Vinicius made dangerous runs in-behind Sevilla’s defense all game, and if Benzema’s passing was a bit sharper (his passing was off tonight in transition, but he did set Vinny up for a clean break on goal in the first half), maybe Real Madrid create even more.
But heading into half-time, we didn’t really have a clear sense of who would eventually score the team’s goal, as there still wasn’t any true finisher in the team.
In the second half, almost immediately after it kicked off, Real Madrid turned to another gear. They kept the ball in Sevilla’s half, and started creating a plethora of chances. There was a lot of energy to feed off of — the team was winning the ball high up the pitch, Sevilla were fouling (getting the Bernabeu really into it), Vinicius cut in from the left for a shot that went wide, Modric had two back-to-back sequences where he shot from good positions after a cut-back from the right, Casemiro shot just wide from the top of the box, Ceballos hit the cross-bar from long distance, and then finally, this:
Casemiro doesn’t usually score but when he does you know it’s a banger pic.twitter.com/sMG9YS5YIS— Spanish Gooner (@elspanishgooner) January 19, 2019
That goal was a relief for everyone — not least the entire Bernabeu which had so much energy ready to be released. After Casemiro’s goal, Real Madrid had dangerous counter-attacking opportunities, and held their shape defensively.
As I was about hit ‘publish’ on this, Modric scores. 2-0.
We’ll break this down further in the coming hours.