Santiago Solari built on the success of the Sevilla game by encouraging his team to play with an extreme level of intensity and as much invention as possible. That influenced the manner and environment in which his players’ performed, as it gave plenty of leeway for the likes of Lucas Vázquez, Karim Benzema, and Vinícius Júnior to roam, dribble, and combine.
The aforementioned intensity manifested into a counterpress that hemmed Girona in their half own half. This not only prevented counter-attacks, but also allowed the home side to lay siege after siege. However, due to Madrid’s fluidity, it was difficult to successfully apply pressure in every circumstance, allowing Girona to look threatening in a couple of transition situations.
Having said that, this was more of an issue in the second half, when Madrid’s intensity fell off ever so slightly and their offensive strategy began to see greater downsides. That put a lot of pressure on the back-line and midfielders to scramble back and put out fires before they became infernos.
At the end of the day, Real Madrid got through it, with many players putting in admirable performances to ensure that they did.
Thibaut Courtois - 7/10
Despite conceding two goals, Courtois didn’t have much to do and wasn’t at fault for much either. No goalkeeper in the world would’ve saved Girona’s two efforts, and Courtois did well to punch a cross and be alert off his line in the few instances he needed to be.
Álvaro Odriozola - 8/10
Odriozola is reminiscent of a right-footed Jordi Alba; he is a huge off-the-ball threat due to his pace and has a knack for the cut-back. In the 18th minute, Odriozola combined those two qualities to set up Lucas Vázquez for the equalizer. The former probably could’ve gotten another assist in similar fashion later on, but he froze at the crucial moment and ended up wasting the attack.
It was a little less positive for Odriozola on defense, as Girona’s left-sided players periodically found space behind the Madrid right back. It’s difficult to place blame on him, however, as Madrid’s right-sided offense depended on his overlapping runs and it was up to the counterpress to protect the spaces he vacated.
Nacho - 6.5/10
Nacho put in a solid, if unspectacular, performance. Though he didn’t complete many defensive actions, his distribution was largely clean against the press. His personal highlight will no doubt be his sweet press resistance move near the touchline late in the game.
His personal lowlight will probably be the way he defended Girona’s first goal. As Raúl García got away down the left, Nacho had a decision to make; he could either stay with his man or rush out to close down the player on the ball. He was indecisive and went halfway, forcing Ramos to shift over as García fired off a cross under no pressure.
Sergio Ramos - 8/10
Ramos’ defensive performance was similar to Nacho’s, minus the mistake. It was on offense where the captain made a bigger impact, scoring another panenka and heading home what could be the deciding goal over the course of the two legs.
Marcelo - 7.5/10
Marcelo started off the game on a sour note thanks to his reactions on Girona’s first goal. Although Nacho should’ve done a better job committing himself, Marcelo needed to recognize the way things were developing in front of him. Instead, he ball-watched, allowing Anthony Lozano to score.
As is often the case with the uber-talented Brazilian, Marcelo responded on offense. He was a constant threat down the left-wing, playing off of Vinícius’ gravity to deliver pinpoint deliveries from space. He ended the game with 3/4 successful crosses, 4 key passes, 2 shots on target, and the assist for Ramos’ goal.
Luka Modrić - 8/10
Luka looks to be back for good, after logging his third consecutive top class performance. His statistics weren’t as impressive as his Betis and Sevilla games, but he was crucial to sustaining Madrid’s high-intensity play. He kept possession flowing in front of Girona’s box and constantly made the right pass, even when there were five or six options ahead of him.
On defense, he was a key fixture in Real Madrid’s counterpress; his motor was ceaseless and he rebounded quickly from attacking positions to eliminate passing lanes.
Casemiro - 8/10
After a string of poor performances following his return from injury, Casemiro scored a blinder vs. Sevilla and completed a good performance in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.
He was active enough on offense, often moving ahead of Modrić and Ceballos to involve himself in passing combinations. Unsurprisingly, though, his bigger highlights came when the opposition had the ball, as he proved to be a one-man security blanket. Whenever it felt like Girona were going to break away, Casemiro intervened in the nick of time.
Ceballos - 8/10
Ceballos was probably the strongest on-ball midfielder of either team. He completed 93% of his 53 passes while possessing the same level of activity as Luka Modrić. He constantly drifted left to link up with Marcelo and Vinícius and showed off his underrated work-rate in counterpressing situations.
Lucas Vázquez - 8.5/10
Lucas Vázquez might’ve been a lock for man-of-the-match if it wasn’t for his defensive breakdown on the first goal. When Odriozola followed his man into Girona’s half, Lucas needed to spot the appearing space and guard against the overlap. He was split second too late in his response, creating a series of dominoes that eventually cost the team.
Like Marcelo, Vázquez responded on offense, scoring the goal that sparked the comeback. He continued to be influential after that, completing 3 dribbles, creating 2 chances, and executing 4/5 tackles. Additionally, he also made use of the positional freedom provided to him, roaming towards the left to connect with his teammates and create overloads.
Karim Benzema - 8/10
Benzema has been in a good bit of form of late. He netted goals against Villarreal and Rayo Vallecano and was excellent vs. Real Betis before coming off injured. Thankfully, his broken finger didn’t affect his performance against Girona.
As expected, he was active in link-up, completing 89% of his 44 passes, managing 5/5 long balls, and finding Vinícius with regularity. He was also a constant threat around the box, producing 4 shots, scoring a goal, and hitting the post once.
Real Madrid will need Benzema to continue in this vein if they wish to see themselves in the Copa del Rey final come the end of the season.
Vinícius Júnior - 9/10
There is little that can be written about this kid that hasn’t been said already. Not only does he have no fear, but he actually has the skill to warrant such an attitude. Every time he drives at a defender, the Bernabéu rises in expectation and his teammates flood into the box. Without him, it’s hard to see Solari’s recent turn to hyper-fluidity and individualism producing victories against Sevilla and Girona.
Stats vs. Girona: 1 assist, 6 key passes, 3/5 successful dribbles, 1 penalty won, and 3 fouls drawn.
Marcos Llorente - 4/10
Marcos Llorente only played for half an hour in his return from injury, but he didn’t make a good impression. Though he was solid on the ball and made a couple good defensive interventions, he also committed a foolish handball that allowed Girona back into the game.
Toni Kroos - 6/10
Toni Kroos came on the pitch shortly after Marcos Llorente and looked to be going through the motions in order to work his way back to match fitness. He rarely gave up possession and completed 5/6 long passes in only 27 minutes, which hopefully indicates that he’ll be 100% for the tough run of fixtures coming up.
Isco - 6/10
Isco’s issues with Solari are no secret, meaning it was no surprise to see him get minutes from the bench, again. There was nothing significant to note in his performance aside from the fact that he made no real mistakes.
All statistics taken from sofascore.com.