Real Madrid beat Huesca 3 - 2 (Isco, Ceballos, Benzema; Hernandez, Etxeita) at the Bernabeu. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, post-game podcast, post-game quotes, and more.
That aura of Zinedine Zidane’s return — the feeling of electricity and excitement that filled Paseo de la Castellana and beyond on March 16th — regressed to the reality of the situation tonight against Huesca, where the Santiago Bernabeu manifested plenty of empty seats, and Zidane rolled out an experimental line-up. The combination of it all was a sad reminder of what the season is: It’s just March, and there isn’t anything to play for.
Tonight, as Real Madrid took on a Huesca side fighting for their lives — and one that had a huge chunk of their small fanbase make their first ever trip to the Bernabeu — they rolled out a line-up consisting of Luca Zidane and Brahim Diaz; while Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, and Asensio (among others) were given the night off. Huesca, who played Real Madrid extremely well earlier this season — pressing high up the pitch and giving Solari’s men problems all game — are not a team afraid to attack. They pushed with numbers at the Bernabeu tonight, and left themselves open in transition.
They opened the scoring in the third minute. Nacho was a bit unlucky in this sequence below, as he didn’t do much wrong defensively and suffered a bad bounce; but Marcelo assumed his man was being picked up in the box, and Llorente was at the near post when he probably should’ve stayed centrally:
Real Madrid remained vulnerable on the flanks with Marcelo still not being in great positions defensively (in the 53rd minute, the team dodged a big bullet when Huesca had a 2-v-1, but the ball didn’t get squared in time to the open man on Real’s left-hand side). Odriozola, to be sure, was solid defensively, and got to a lot of good spots in the final third too; while Ramos covered as best he could on the opposite flank.
Huesca didn’t have much of the ball, but outshot Real and went toe-to-toe with them in terms of creating chances.
Still, Real Madrid shouldn’t have put themselves in a position to sweat this one out. They had enough dangerous chances to put this game to bed in the second half when they were up 2 - 1. Benzema, as good as he was with the ball, had a poor first half finishing-wise; and Bale was not clinical, to put it politely.
One of Zidane’s most encouraging players offensively tonight was Brahim Diaz. He had a really good mentality — always looking vertically, moving without the ball, and keeping things fluid. He had a nice controlled cut-back to Isco on Real Madrid’s equalizer in the first half:
A standout of that first half — alongside Benzema and Odriozola — was Marcos Llorente, who slid in after his big injury to cover up giveaways and throw Huesca players around while winning possession. In the first half, he had three tackles, three interceptions, and three completed dribbles.
The second half had a slow start for both teams; but Zidane’s men did make it 2 - 1 through a really nice sequence: An outside of the boot cross from Bale, a header across goal from Benzema, and a finish by Dani Ceballos who made a good run after starting the play initially.
| GOAL! |— Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK) March 31, 2019
Real Madrid lead after conceding in the 3rd minute!
Dani Ceballos gets the ball in the back of the net ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/LVGiG8GqVH
Huesca equalized 12 minutes later, as Nacho couldn’t keep up with Xabier Etxeita’s run to the near post from a corner:
| EQUALISER!! |— Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK) March 31, 2019
Huesca take a short corner before firing in a cross...
Xabier Etxeita loses Nacho too easily and heads it home! pic.twitter.com/zdzIkRY4kr
That moment was frustrating, for obvious reasons, but perhaps mostly because Real Madrid should’ve been ahead by at least two goals at that point.
Benzema’s winning goal did eventually seal the three points:
| GOAAAL! |— Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK) March 31, 2019
Karim Benzema to Real Madrid's rescue!
He finally gets his goal and what a fine strike that is! pic.twitter.com/KC1DuvzuGV
While coming second in La Liga this season would be something good to achieve at this point, there isn’t hiding that the most important part of Zidane’s takeover (for the rest of this season, anyway), is the process on the pitch and the development of certain players. The team’s performance, was, to put it bluntly, ‘meh’ — but Brahim, Odriozola, Benzema, and Llorente were impressive tonight, and it’s nice to see Mariano making another appearance off the bench.
We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.