Real Madrid 5 – 0 Granada: Post-Match Review

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Real Madrid thrashed Granada 5-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu. Here’s Alex McVey with a match recap.

Real Madrid looked to extend their unbeaten streak to 39 matches with a win in their first La Liga match of the New Year, taking on Granada at the Santiago Bernabéu. Granada was in poor form coming into the match, with only 1 win so far this season, sitting at 19th in the table.

The match began with the presentation of Cristiano Ronaldo’s fourth Balon d’Or to the Madrid Faithful. The ceremony was a star-studded event, with former Madrid Balon d’Or winners Raymond Kopa, Luis Figo, Michael Owen, and Brazilian Ronaldo in attendance, and Kaka and Fabio Cannavaro sending their congratulations through video messages.

The match kicked off with a patient, methodical Madrid moving the ball from side to side without much penetration for the first ten minutes of the match. Near the ten-minute mark, however, Madrid began implementing the intelligent press that worked so well against Sevilla in the Copa Del Rey. After losing the ball, Madrid’s fullbacks and midfielders consistently hounded Granada’s players, dispossessing them of the ball to launch attack after attack.

This strategy quickly paid off, as Isco counter-pressed and dispossessed Granada deep in the away team’s half. Casemiro picked up the pieces, shoveling the ball to Benzema who then played Isco in for Madrid’s first goal.

After drawing first-blood, there was no turning back for Madrid. Zidane had his men operating in a fluid 4-4-2 formation that functioned as a 4-2-2-2, with Kroos and Casemiro holding down the center of the park while Isco and Modrić made penetrating runs into the attacking third and linked up play with Marcelo and Carvajal respectively. This system paid dividends, as Madrid ran Granada ragged during the first half.

The onslaught of attack proved far too much for Granada. In the 20th minute, Modrić put in a low shot that skidded across the pitch to Granada’s Mexican keeper Memo Ochoa who, rather than slapping the ball out of play, tried unsuccessfully to catch the ball. Benzema was there to pick up the pieces, slotting away Madrid’s second goal of the night. Although Big Benz was probably offsides when Modrić’s shot was released, the referee’s flag stayed down, and Madrid’s lead was doubled.

Things continued to get ugly for Granada, who could not handle Madrid’s intense press and their blistering runs down the flanks. Marcelo was imperious for the entire first half, twisting and turning Granada’s defenders up and down the left hand side of the pitch. This paid off in the 27th minute, as Marcelo’s pin-point cross found Cristiano’s head to put the ball in the back of the net for Madrid’s third goal. Isco scored a brace off of a penetrating run from Modrić down the right hand side of the pitch, as Madrid’s 4th goal capped off a dominant first half performance.

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Madrid began the second half with a substitution, with James Rodríguez coming on for Toni Kroos before the kickoff. Hopefully this was just a precaution, as Madrid’s midfield depth chart is beginning to look a bit thin with Mateo Kovačić and Lucas Vasquez out for some time. Kroos was tidy in his first half performance, but far from his usually dominant self. This relatively anonymous performance may be down to Zidane’s tactics, with Modrić and Isco primarily charged with connecting Madrid’s defense to their attack.

This substitution was quickly followed by another, as Isco was taken off for Asensio in the 49th minute. Isco had put in a marvelous performance, but seemed to be carrying a slight niggle. Hopefully Kroos and Isco got some well-needed rest before our upcoming back-to-back matches against Sevilla.

Madrid kept up their press during the second half, with Casemiro at the center of operations. The stalwart Brazilian would wait until a Granada player was pinned to the sideline or stuck in the middle of a sea of white shirts, and come in to dispossess. Casemiro continues to demonstrate his importance to Zidane’s tactically flexible side, with a team high of ten dispossessions. This allowed Isco, Modrić, and James the freedom they needed to influence the match.

Ronaldo, who had been relatively anonymous in the first half apart from his goal, showed a few more signs of life in the second, dribbling through the center of the park. Ronaldo could not hide his frustration throughout the match, consistently complaining about referee decisions, miscommunications with teammates, and his own inconsistency in front of goal.

This problem shouldn’t be overstated, though, as Ronaldo’s hyper-competitive nature often masquerades as petulance. Despite appearances, Ronaldo was actually quite the team player. When Madrid was awarded a free kick on the right hand side of the pitch just outside Granada’s box, everyone was expecting Ronaldo to demand the kick in Bale’s absence. However, Ronaldo merely stood over the ball as a distraction, allowing James to take the kick which nearly found its way to the top corner.  Additionally, despite his complaints, Ronaldo quietly put in a solid performance. He was Madrid’s top passer in the attacking third, and was able to celebrate his Balon d’Or presentation match with a goal.

The icing on the cake came in the form of a 57th minute goal from Casemiro off of a well-worked set piece. Ronaldo, Benzema, and Varane all made cutting runs to the near post, dragging Granada’s defenders fully out of position. Casemiro intelligently cut in to the back post for an easy tap-in, extending Madrid’s lead to five.

Zidane’s men were content to see the match out. Marcelo was subbed off for Fábio Coentrão around the 67th minute. Shockingly, perhaps, this was Coentrão’s first match in La Liga this season, having made only three appearances across all competitions.

It should be noted that Madrid’s defensive pairing of Varane and Nacho were rarely called into action, but were tidy when they needed to be. Keylor Navas made one crucial save in the closing minutes of the match, but was otherwise a spectator for most of this game.

The match ended 5-0, with Zidane extending his men’s unbeaten streak to 39, equaling the record achieved by Luis Enrique. More importantly, Madrid ensured that they will remain six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the table, keeping the pressure on their Catalan rivals who stumbled mid-week against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

Madrid now face a tough challenge, playing Sevilla twice in a row in the Copa del Rey and La Liga respectively. Zidane could not have asked for a better performance from his men leading up to these tough fixtures.

(Stats courtesy of FourFourTwo StatZone)