After three hesitant performances, Real Madrid recovered their swagger with a convincing 4-1 win at Eibar. Zinedine Zidane’s lineup full of bench players showed an impressive work rate and offered several flashes of talent to overcome one of the most in-shape squads in La Liga. Especially during the first half, seventh place Eibar looked unable to threat Real Madrid due to the excellent positioning and mobility of the visitors.
The impressive understanding between Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio was the highlight of a fundamental victory right before the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 in Napoli next Tuesday.
The focus and determination of the team was a major plus; they simply didn’t miss Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo or Toni Kroos. The squad showed its strength in depth, allowing Zidane to rest a few players for next Tuesday’s match. The defensive structure looked extremely solid for the first 70 minutes, a remarkable change after some sub-par outings.
After one goal in his last 10 matches, Benzema scored twice and enjoyed himself throughout the match. Quality minutes for Asensio and James will be very useful later on in the season.
There’s mounting evidence to support the idea that this squad would play better with more men in midfield instead of running out three pure forwards. In this case, the 4-2-3-1 worked wonders, but Zidane will continue to start Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo every time they are available, even though the work rate suffers, and the opposition looks a lot more comfortable both offensively and defensively. Danilo looks fated to make at least one costly mistake per match.
Manager rating out of 10
9 — Even taking into account Tuesday’s key match, the line-up was a risky one. On top of the forced absentees, the French manager decided to leave Kroos, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo on the bench. His gamble worked out fantastically, as the team played as well as they have this season during the first 45 minutes. He also moved the bench timely to rest Luka Modric and Benzema when the match was almost won. It’s not the first time that Zidane has showed significant trust on the bench, and once again, they have delivered.
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Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 — With very rare moments of action, Navas was solid for most of the match and helpless to prevent Eibar’s goal.
DF Danilo, 5 — Went unnoticed for most of the match, hitting several long balls to avoid complications at the back until, in a matter of minutes, he prevented Ruben Peña from scoring and then disappointingly missed his mark in front of Eibar’s goal.
DF Pepe, 8 — As solid as usual since he returned to fitness. Dealt well with Sergio Enrich and his comeback is indeed great news at this stage of the season.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 — A serious performance from the skipper, who even avoided the customary booking away from home.
DF Nacho Fernandez, 7 — Looked a bit soft (which is rare) on Eibar’s goal, but was otherwise well positioned and ventured forward often.
MF Luka Modric, 8 — The easiest way to explain his performance would be to point to the applause he received from the Eibar faithful when replaced after 71 minutes. Playing as the creative member of a duo with Casemiro, the Croatian maestro dominated the middle of the park and distributed to James, Asensio and Benzema as often as required.
MF Casemiro, 8 — Another textbook match by Real Madrid’s only pure defensive midfielder. His tackling and ball-recovery skills are spectacular while his passing is improving with each match.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 7 — The least lively of the offensive players, his focus and hard work on defence make Real Madrid a much tougher team to beat. Did wear down defenders with his movement.
MF James Rodriguez, 8 — Probably his most complete match of the season. Recovered possession, crossed as well as usual and even scored after a great offensive move. His partnership with Asensio and Benzema was a joy to watch.
FW Marco Asensio, 8 — His first 60 minutes were delightful. Asensio showed an ability to keep the ball, find his teammates in space and punish defensive mistakes, keeping Eibar’s defence on the back foot for a solid hour. After that, he tired, as his lack of playing time started to show.
FW Karim Benzema, 9 — The French striker showed his best on Saturday. Found space on the sides of Eibar’s defence, linked up well with teammates and was a nightmare for opposite man Ivan Ramis. Probably a better player when he’s the centre of attention and has a supporting cast than as a member of one.
MF Mariano, 5 — Replaced Benzema after 65 minutes. Had a few chances to do more but looked a bit too eager to make his mark.
FW Mateo Kovacic, 6 — Replaced Modric after 71 minutes, showing some good movement and a couple of threatening through balls.
MF Isco Alarcon, NR — Replaced James after 75 minutes and had a couple of (ineffective) moments of magic when the match was already over.
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