Real Madrid remain the only team to progress through the group stages in the UEFA Champions League after negotiating a 2-0 win at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano against Borussia Monchengladbach in flawless fashion. A performance which could be considered the best of the season thus far.
With his job on the line, Zinedine Zidane decided to stick with Lucas Vazquez at a converted right-back despite having both traditional right-backs Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Odriozola available once more on the bench. And it was Zidane’s trusted squad player who created the first opportunity, as Real settled nicely to the task at hand.
A beautifully stood up ball to the back post, Karim Benzema glanced a header into the corner leaving Yann Sommer unmoved, as Real took the lead after eight minutes. There was a glimpse from Marcus Thuram, who’s snapshot was hit straight at Thibaut Courtois, but Madrid were relatively untroubled in the opening phase.
If anything, an error would come from Casemiro, who continued to look uncomfortable in possession. All the Bundesliga side would need to do is put pressure on him when he had the ball, and mistakes would creep in, but fortunately for Madrid, the Germans didn’t and remained passive.
The visitors only real opportunity came from something they didn’t do often enough in the opening half hour. Gladbach players got stuck in on Madrid’s right flank, bundling Lucas off the ball and worked the ball quickly through the center of the park. Alassane Plea was at the end of the well worked move, but his dink over the on-rushing Courtois fortunately rolled wide of the post as Madrid had their first warning sign.
After that, there was nothing, and Madrid took total control of their own fate soon after that Plea chance. Rodrygo Goes was given time and space on the right just as Lucas was for the opener. The Brazilian teenager’s whipped in cross again found Benzema, who became just the fourth Frenchman in history to score 350 professional career goals, behind Thierry Henry, Roger Courtois and Michel Platini respectively.
At this point, the 13-time European champions were sniffing blood. Before the break, Luka Modric, who had been orchestrating things out there, got at the end of a Lucas cut-back, and the Croatian’s shot was somehow kept out by a Sommer finger-tip onto the post, keeping Gladbach in the game.
The 31-year old keeper had to be on his toes straight after the break too. Rodrygo again with a nice ball in, Benzema probably should have had a hat-trick of headers, Sommer saved. As the Gladbach shot-stopper did to deny Toni Kroos at the hour mark, who’s left-footed drive from the edge of the box was destined to ripple the top corner.
Madrid were comfortable, and Gladbach were uncharacteristically flat and unbothered, it was turning into a training session, and the Spanish side were beginning to have fun on home soil. Both Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo could have extended the lead but perhaps it should have been a 3-0 advantage with 15 minutes to play. Yet again Sommer the hero, keeping his side within a sniffing chance. Kroos in acres of space, found Sergio Ramos who’s header was incredibly kept out at full-stretch, and from the rebound, Benzema smashed the cross-bar when it looked easier to score.
As Madrid continued easing out of transition from their own half, further chances were created. Perhaps the best came from a combination between Lucas, Modric and Benzema on the right-flank, resulting in Lucas hitting the post with Sommer watching his woodwork shake. Ultimately, Madrid’s best performance of the season, and it came at the perfect time, as they top the group and progress to the round of 16, but will also be pleased with how perfect the preparation is for the big one at the weekend.
Up next for Real Madrid?
Who? Atletico Madrid
When? Saturday 12th December @ 21:00 CET
Where? Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano