A game of two halves, and one which left a lot more to be desired for.
Real Madrid resumed their La Liga campaign with a 3-1 victory over Eibar on Sunday evening, shaking off post-lockdown nerves and cobwebs. But as good as the first half was, the second was everything that was wrong with the team before the lockdown.
It was an emphatic first half, utterly dominating Eibar at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano. Zinedine Zidane threw in a curve-ball before the match as he usually does, with the surprise inclusion of Rodrygo Goes in the starting line-up, while two of Madrid’s key men this season, Federico Valverde and Ferland Mendy, were both on the bench.
Karim Benzema started in a similar positive fashion as he began the season, looking fit and hungry. His combination play with Eden Hazard was particularly lovely to see during the opening period, and it was the Frenchman who carved out the first goal. His pass found Toni Kroos, who nonchalantly side-footed over the helpless Marko Dmitrovic from the edge of the box to give the hosts the lead after only four minutes on the clock. A fast start would have been exactly what Zidane had ordered.
The return of Hazard from his ankle surgery was always going to be a huge boost to Real’s title challenge, and the Belgian got a very successful hour under his belt. He was involved in a lot of the positive work Madrid carried out in the first half, and he capped his performance off with an assist for Sergio Ramos’ goal.
The captain intercepted a through-ball at the edge of his own box, and sprayed the ball out to Benzema on the left. Benzema then carried the ball past a few challenges before squeezing a through-ball to Hazard in the box with pin-point accuracy, who then squared to Ramos. The Spaniard scored the first ever goal at this stadium 14 years ago, and on his first return, the central defender scored his 67th La Liga goal, equaling Ronald Koeman’s record as the highest scoring defender in the league’s history.
It was a one-sided affair, the few chances the visitors mustered were mere pops from distance. And soon, it got worse for the Armagiñaks. Hazard and Rodrygo had switched flanks after the half-hour cooling break, but that didn’t stop the assault from Real. Benzema dropped deep to collect the ball from Hazard, before swiveling and picking out the Belgian once more in the box, who’s shot was saved by Dmitrovic, but eventually fell to Marcelo who thrashed home a third.
But as good as the first half was, the second was extremely poor. Zidane’s substitutions didn’t help things, but the intensity had dropped, due to zero impact from the midfield. Luka Modric, Kroos and Casemiro were always going to struggle playing more than 45 minutes upon their return, and it showed in the second period as Eibar peppered the Madrid goal.
Courtois first created danger for himself with a poor clearance, allowing Edu Exposito to force a save out of him. And later, Courtois needed an even better save to keep Expositio out. From the resulting corner, Sergi Enrich had a header come back off the bar, as Real were rattled early on. And despite the warning signs, it didn’t get any better, as Real continued looking flat.
Eibar got their deserved goal on the hour mark. Benzema failed to clear a poor corner kick, and his shanked attempt fell to Pablo de Blasis, who’s shot deflected off Rodrygo and then teammate Bigas before trickling through the legs of Courtois.
It could have got worse for Madrid soon after, as a former player nearly hurt them. Pedro Leon was troubling Marcelo, who was going through a tough physical period at the point, and when the Brazilian was out of position, the ball found its way to Leon who’s shot was smartly saved by Courtois.
Despite of a few more half-chances for Eibar, Real hung on to secure the three points.
Up next for Real Madrid:
Where: Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano
When: Thursday 18th June @ 22:00 CEST