This was a relatively routine win, as Real Madrid build a two-goal cushion heading into the second leg. Girona left both Portu, Pere Pons, and Christian Stuani on the bench to start, and Eusebio Sacristan’s men had a frail defensive shape and easily permeable press.
Yet, funnily enough, they scored first, and it was their press that hounded Odriozola into losing possession. The dominoes hit hard. Lucas Vazquez not in position to cover. Nacho hedged over to mark Raul Garcia on the wing, Ramos tucked inside to the near post, and Marcelo was nowhere near Anthony Lozano to stop the goal:
It has to be reiterated, as good as that sequence was from Girona, their press was easily passable, and their high defensive line was vulnerable against Odriozola overloads. Modric, Ceballos, and Benzema were playing nice through balls on the right side, where the Spanish right-back got on the end of those passes just as he did against Leganes in the first leg of the previous round.
Real Madrid’s equalizer came through that same route, with Casemiro winning the ball, and Benzema and Odriozola making all the right decisions:
Not so fast!— DAZN CA (@DAZN_CA) January 24, 2019
Real Madrid hit back with a quick equalizer through Lucas Vazquez.
It's getting real good.
https://t.co/QlaIPtADzN #MadridGirona #HalaMadrid pic.twitter.com/jJV9y0Y0iT
Moments later, Odriozola made the same run, and had the ball in almost the exact same position, but rather than cutting it back to an open Benzema, he shot straight at goalkeeper Iraizoz. That should’ve marked Real Madrid’s second goal.
Instead, the go-ahead goal came in the 42nd minute, when Vinicius Jr (a nice, menacing game from him offensively tonight, as well as a couple instances of deep ball retention) was tripped in the box. Ramos panenka penalty (*drink*) incoming:
Real Madrid vs Girona 2-1 at HT— Hala Madrid 1️⃣3️⃣ (@IconiccReal) January 24, 2019
What a penalty by Ramos and Lucas Vazquez’s Goal
Paneka penalty Goal by Capitano Sergio Ramos vamos pic.twitter.com/Z81WVyjTsy
It looked pretty comfortable at that point. The team was playing well collectively (apart from dodgy transition defending on the flanks), the energy was high, Casemiro was having a stereotypical Casemiro game (at half-time, he had three awful giveaways and just 75% passing accuracy, but also won the ball six times, and almost all six of them were spectacular and key in igniting attacks), Odriozola’s runs were dangerous, and Kroos and Llorente marked their long-awaited return from injury.
Things took a weird twist when Llorente came in, though. His first touch was a nice vertical pass to Modric, and his second touch was a successful tackle deep in Real Madrid’s half. But shortly after, he had a bizarre brainfart— putting his arm in the air and connecting with the ball to give away a penalty. The only explanation was that he thought he was fouled in the box, and that the handball wouldn’t have been a consequence as a result — but it turns out it was his own teammate that collided into him, and there really isn’t an excuse for the handball.
The result was a penalty, which Alex Granell converted.
Real Madrid recovered, though. First through a beastly Sergio Ramos header (and an unveil of a Ramos / Lucas handshake we never knew existed!), and then Karim Benzema made it 4-2 with a far-post finish.
Sergio Ramos with a header to take the lead and get his brace! pic.twitter.com/LVzBRi1jlD— RMadrid Rey (@RMadridRey) January 24, 2019
We’ll break this down in more detail in the coming hours.