Zidane continued to experiment with the 5-3-2 formation opting to go with Varane, Militao and Nacho in the back line with Marcelo and Carvajal flanking the midfield in wingback roles. The midfield was comprised of Casemiro, Valverde, and Modric supporting a Hazard-Benzema attack.
The formation clearly signalled Los Blancos’ approach to the game as they displayed a strong defensive structure that worked more naturally than the standard 4-3-3. The wingbacks were disciplined in retreating when out of possession essentially forming a bank of five at the back. Despite this conservative scheme, Roma were still able to manufacture a number of chances primarily due to the impressive pace of their wingers (who proved difficult tests for both Nacho and Militao). Dzeko was also instrumental in the Italians’ play as his strength and touch presented an ongoing threat to Zidane’s men.
Although playing in a defensively geared structure, Real Madrid pressed aggressively. They stepped deep into Roma’s half as needed to prevent the opposition from constructing flowing possession sequences. That being said, Hazard and co suffered to generate any form of consistent ball circulation when they won the ball back. The lack of midfield presence and isolation of the forwards were serious challenges to smooth controlling on-the-ball play. Especially due to the nature of the players fielded as Valverde and Casemiro are not pass dominant midfielders.
But when things occasionally clicked – it worked brilliantly. As has been noted in previous reviews, Hazard’s attacking intelligence and arsenal of skills are truly incredible and as such he creates a vortex like force field whenever he is on the ball in attacking zones. He linked up very well with several players often being at the fore of the most potent plays. The most memorable scene of the game from an offensive standpoint however didn’t star the diminutive Belgian.
The first goal was a textbook demonstration of what many imagine Zidane visualizes when he sets the line-up. Everything from Casemiro’s turn (slightly betrayed by Valverde’s poor touch), Militao’s brilliant line breaking pass, and Modric’s even better turn and delivery to Marcelo. The Brazilian, Captain for the day, beautifully capped the entrancing sequence by deftly cutting in and decisively scoring with his weak foot.
After the goal, Roma who had maintained a high level of intensity across the pitch dropped into a lower block allowing Real Madrid more time on the ball. This caused the Spanish team to structurally accede further up the pitch. This dynamic led to several counters including Zaniolo’s bursting sprint in the 35th minute in the lead up to Perotti’s goal. Casemiro and Dzeko would score again before the referee blew the whistle for half.
The visitors started the second half brightly riding on their ascendancy heading into the break. The play almost entirely shifted to Roma’s half as the home side camped in their box leaving Dzeko as practically the only outlet. The Hazard-Marcelo left side tandem really began to shine in these conditions with the two exchanging passes at an almost telepathic level. Zidane made changes with the introduction of Vincius and Jovic – later joined by Bale, Kroos, Odriozola and Isco. The game became slightly more open with the personnel changes on both sides but neither team could add to their goal tallies. The match finished 2-2 in regulation with Roma winning on penalties.