Espanyol 0-1 Real Madrid: 5 Key Moments of the match as Casemiro's goal gives Los Blancos crucial lead over Barcelona | La Liga 2019-20
- Real Madrid reclaimed their spot at the top of the LaLiga Santander table with a narrow win over Espanyol.
- Los Blancos were in cruise control for large parts of the game barring a few threatening counter-attacks from the home side.
Real Madrid opened up a crucial two-point lead over rivals Barcelona at the top of the table with a win against Espanyol. Los Blancos needed a solitary goal from Brazilian destroyer Casemiro to register a dogged win against the Blaugrana's city rivals.
It was a professional performance from both sides on the night. Real Madrid saw the lion's share of the ball with 69% of possession. However, they lacked an incision in attack and couldn't find too many clear-cut opportunities. Even when they did, a remarkable performance from Diego Lopez kept them at bay for large parts of the game.
Lopez, a former Real Madrid player, was phenomenal on the night having made a string of stunning saves to deny his old club. The likes of Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, and other Real Madrid attackers were denied from point-blank range. The Spanish veteran made five crucial saves against Los Blancos.
Espanyol, sitting at the bottom of the LaLiga Santander table, fired their third manager of the season Abelardo just a day before the Real Madrid fixture. Francisco Rufete, the sporting director of Espanyol, stepped in as the temporary manager for the remaining games this year. For his first's game in charge, his Los Periquitos looked well-organized and caused Real Madrid a few issues throughout the game.
Although Real Madrid played with a sense of control for most of the game, Espanyol came very close to breaking the deadlock on several occasions. That being said, Los Blancos were in cruise control and kept possession of the ball, giving Espanyol minimal opportunities.
The goal came from a superb piece of play which culminated with an exquisite piece of skill from Benzema. The Frenchman back-heeled the ball through the legs of the Espanyol defender to find Casemiro's darting run. The latter smashed home from close range giving Real Madrid the all-important win.
Here, we take a look at five key moments from the match.
1. Espanyol's blistering attacks in the first five minutes
Just as Real Madrid were beginning to ease their way into the game and beginning to knock the ball around, Espanyol threatened to hurt them. Wu Lei picked up the ball, beat Marcelo for pace and marauded down the right-wing. He created a chance which ricocheted off to Sergi Darder, whose shot was blocked.
It was a warning sign for Real Madrid at the start of the game, as they were beginning to get comfortable in possession away from home. Espanyol had two superb opportunities within the first five minutes and won themselves a free-kick in a dangerous area as well. The shot from Adrian Embarba, however, was saved comfortably by Thibaut Courtois.
A goal in these opening stages could have proved priceless for Espanyol, looking for a fresh start under their fourth manager this year. It could have given the game a very different dynamic from the get-go.
2. Diego Lopez's crucial saves
This isn't exactly one moment per se, but a collection of decisive saves made on multiple occasions by former Real Madrid keeper Lopez. The 38-year-old pulled off an excellent save to deny a curling Karim Benzema effort in the 35th minute, and had to be aware of the impending waves of Real Madrid attacks.
Just six minutes later, a frantic sequence of play led to Wu Lei clearing the ball but striking Casemiro in the process. The ball then fell kindly for Eden Hazard in the box, and the Belgian struck it into the ground hoping to beat the defence with the bounce. Lopez saw the danger and carefully tipped the ball over the bar and got his side out of a dangerous situation.
He followed it up with another point-blank save in the 53rd minute when Isco launched a raking crossfield ball to find Benzema in space. The Frenchman connected on the volley and tried to sneak it past the near post, but Lopez was alert to the threat, parrying it away. He was simply fantastic on the night against his old club.
3. Karim Benzema's moment of "tacon de dios" magic
Espanyol were well-drilled in their rigid 4-4-2 setup and did very well to keep Real Madrid at bay. The away side needed one moment of magic to break the deadlock and impose control on the game, and that is precisely what was delivered.
Late into the first half, Real Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos went on one of his trademark swashbuckling runs into the Espanyol half. Marcelo lobbed the ball towards Ramos who won the header and set Benzema away with the ball.
The Frenchman dragged centre-half, Bernardo Espinosa, away and pulled off an absolutely stunning piece of skill. Benzema spotted Casemiro's run and found him with a 'tacon de dios' or 'heel of god' pass through the defender's legs. The Brazilian made no mistake from close range and stabbed it past Diego Lopez.
It was a moment of brilliance that was worthy of being a matchwinner. It was simply phenomenal from Karim Benzema, a player who has been in sublime form since the restart.
4. Brazilian impetus on the counter
Hazard and Isco began as the players tasked with operating in wide areas on the pitch, flanking Benzema. The former was fouled four times, most of any player on the pitch, while the latter suffered just one lesser. In the 63rd minute, Zidane made the decision to replace them with wonderkid duo Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo Goes.
Real Madrid's threat on the counter and pressure on the opposition full-backs was significantly increased since the two Brazilian teenagers were unleashed. Both Vinicius and Rodrygo added an influx of 1v1 situations with the Espanyol full-backs. Real Madrid found it easier to drive at the home side's goal with pace and directness since their arrival.
The two 19-year-olds also helped Real Madrid revert to a more conservative and conventional 4-3-3 and see out the game. Both wingers worked hard defensively and broke at pace at every opportunity. It was a superb move to bring on Vinicius and Rodrygo as it helped Real Madrid gain further control of proceedings.
5. Thibaut Courtois' crucial save from R.D.T.'s free-kick
It was a rather special occasion for Espanyol striker Raul de Tomas. He was playing against his boyhood club Real Madrid and played like a man with a point to prove. The Spaniard was shipped to S.L. Benfica by Los Blancos and was brought back to LaLiga by bottom-dwellers Espanyol in January.
Vinicius, working as hard as ever defensively for the side, tracked back after Real Madrid lost the ball. He committed a needless foul on Espanyol substitute Oscar Melendo in a relatively dangerous area, giving away a free-kick in the 65th minute. De Tomas stepped up and unleashed a venomous drive aiming at the bottom corner of the far post.
Thibaut Courtois dived low to his right and palmed the ball away at full stretch. He parried it well enough for the ball to go out for a throw, nullifying Espanyol's commendable attack. It wasn't the most difficult save Courtois has had to make all season but was a vital one in the context of the game.
It was one of his five saves on the night en-route his 15th LaLiga clean sheet of the season in 29 appearances.
Published 29 Jun 2020, 05:21 IST