If Zidane is synonymous with Real Madrid, than Mendilibar is the definition of Eibar’s ethos. The man that mastermind the 3-0 thumping of Los Blacos in Ipurua was at it again, refusing to veer from the tactics that have made this team so effective, even in the Bernabeu. Zidane put out a line-up that included young Fede Valverde as the lone single pivot in midfield and Sergio Reguilon was given the nod for his first start at left back under the Frenchman after Marcelo’s suspension. Los Blancos best moment of the opening 45 minutes came early on – Isco slipped an incisive first time pass through Eibar’s high line to release Gareth Bale. The Welshman took the ball in his stride and was through 1v1 with Dmitrovic, but failed to convert what should have been the opening goal. Things went down hill from there, Mendilbar’s men implemented their standard high press, which Madrid struggled to break through. Even with a strong press resistant midfield trio of Modric, Isco and Valverde—the team could not break through the initial press and feast on Eibar’s high line:
Barely venturing into Eibar's half. pic.twitter.com/dxbIaPkXoe— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) April 6, 2019
The most dangerous opportunities were created by the team in blaugrana. Madrid managed a meager one shot and not a single shot on target. The writing was on the wall and sure enough, Eibar struck first with a goal that emphasized the lack of defensive structure from Madrid and a moment where Sergio Reguilon, who up to that point had been one of Madrid’s few good performers, switched off and allowed Cardona to slip in behind of him.
Zidane had his work cut out for him as he departed down the tunnel for the halftime break. The Bernabeu whistle’s showered down on both players and coach. There was an immediate tactical switch at the start of the second half: Bale and Asensio swapped flanks with Marco on the right and Bale on the left. That switch would pay dividends. There was a greater intensity from Madrid in the second stanza and Zidane had his team push higher up the pitch – Varane and Nacho in particular were far more aggressive in pushing the defensive line higher up the pitch and cutting out any potential counter attacking opportunities for Eibar. Less than ten minutes into the second half, Karim Benzema would score after sloppy play from Eibar. Though, the goal would be disallowed for an offside by VAR. Madrid’s attack began to filter through the right flank – Asensio came alive—much like he did in Zidane’s first match vs Celta when swapped to the right. It would be a couple body feints and dukes down near the corner flag from Marco, before whipping in a right footed cross which found the head of the in-form Karim Benzema, who would not be denied twice. Benzema’s header would be his 25th goal in all competitions this season and his fifth goal in 5 games.
The shift in momentum meant Zidane waited until the 75th minute to make any changes: Lucas Vazquez for Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos for Luka Modric. Only five minutes later from a Toni Kroos corner kick, would Benzema rise and score his second goal and second header of the game to give Madrid the lead. This come from behind victory again demonstrates the influence of Zinedine Zidane. Under Lopetegui and Solari, the team often crumbled after giving up a goal and struggled to complete a turnaround. Credit where it’s due, Zidane and the team were awful during the first half, but the Frenchman was able to make some slight tweaks tactically and motivate the team to come out play with some hunger in the second half. Asensio and Benzema deserve shout-outs each, as they were catalyst in the Madrid attack. In the final five minutes, Madrid were relentless and Eibar had tired. Toni Kroos and Lucas Vazquez had injected life into the team. Benzema had two huge opportunities to complete his hat trick, but ultimately squandered the chances. The first half will be one to forget, but Madrid fans can leave happier knowing there was a reaction from the team in the second half.