Real Madrid emerged victorious from an entertaining battle between first and second place in La Liga as they defeated Granada. The team utilized a strong midfield, with Valverde continuing to feature prominently, to control the game while Gareth Bale’s opener gave them the edge early on. The starting XI didn’t have too many surprises.
It was essentially the same players as the last league game except for Nacho who is injured. Carvajal deputized in the left back role in the absence of all designated options for that position and Odriozola slid into the right back slot. Granada were not to be underestimated as the Andalusian club had lost just once this season prior to the game and were undefeated in their last five games (winning four of them).
Bale assist gives Real Madrid the edge
Gareth Bale conjured up a magical pass after the match had barely started to give the hosts the lead. The Welshman deliciously sliced a sweeping pass from just outside of the box past three Granada players to Benzema. The striker didn’t hesitate and connected cleanly for a one time finish. This lead likely gave Real Madrid more freedom to impose themselves in the game. They dominated possession and attacked adventurously.
Granada struggled to keep pace with Real Madrid’s vigor. The away side barely created any chances in the first half as they succumbed to Los Blancos strength in the middle. Casemiro, Kroos (later replaced by Modric), and Valverde compactly guarded the midfield space and aggressively recovered possession when the opportunity presented itself.
Valverde’s important role in midfield
Valverde seems to have Zidane’s full backing at the moment and going back to last season, he appeared to be the manager’s most trusted player from the burgeoning group of young midfielders (including others such as Ceballos, LLorente etc) the latter had at his disposal. The Uruguayan , based on the current trajectory of his development, is the closest thing to a true box-to-box midfielder in the squad. His athleticism and industry – which shone defensively against Atletico – enable him to support both phases of play quite well. He complements the otherwise relatively “static” profile of combinations including one or more of Casemiro, Kroos, and Modric.
“That’s the kind of player he is. He’s a bit of a modern player, he’s got a fantastic engine on him, it’s not only in attack because he puts in just as much work in defence too and that’s important in the modern game and he’s doing well, just as many of them are. I’m delighted for Fede because he’s getting game time and he deserves it.” — Zinedine Zidane
Against Granada, the midfielder’s work in the final third proved especially productive as he supplied additional support and presence in the box while enhancing Real Madrid’s counter-pressing capacity. On the second point, it was Valverde’s interception (following a recovery of possession earlier in the play) that set Hazard off for the second goal. Similarly, the midfielder won the ball back after Antonio Puertas’ sloppy touch and strongly drove down the wing in the lead up to Modric’s goal. Hazard picked it up, showed good feet to evade a few Granada defenders before laying it off to the Croatian who hammered home a golazo from outside of the box. It is this kind of contribution, along with other attributes such as his verticalpassing, combined with Valverde’s reliability and effectiveness without the ball that one imagines Zidane is growing fond of.
Granada mount a comeback but James ices the game
Areola’s mistake in the 67th minute cost Real Madrid a penalty which Machis dispatched. They would score another just ten minutes later through a corner that was tipped on to Duarte. Besides these two chances, Real Madrid actually defended very well and limited the away side to few significant openings. Isco and Rodriguez’s entrance confirmed Zidane’s intention to go for the kill due to how much space Granada were conceding in defense in an attempt to even the score line.
Real Madrid had come close to a few breaks with Hazard and Bale that were foiled at the last minute. The same was true after those two were substituted out — with Odrizola featuring extensively during this period. The right back smartly exploited the vacant right side when Granada were caught out in transition. This materialized into one of the best chances (Benzema in the 86th minute) of the match which was assisted by Odriozola, although James’ great interception should be credited as starting the sequence. The Colombian’s overall defensive shift during his time on the field was impressive. The ball would eventually fall for the home side as Odriozola made a bursting run on the break in extra time before cutting it back into the danger area. James met the ball and calmly guided it into the net with his right foot to put an end to the contest. Still top of the table and undefeated in eight matches, this was an important result for Zidane’s men.