In what was a battle for the top spot in La Liga, Real Madrid were pushed to the edge and tested by Girona at Estadi Montilivi today, yet walked away with all three points after a comprehensive display.
First-half goals from Joselu and Aurelien Tchouameni placed the men in white in a comfortable situation before Jude Bellingham sealed the game with a third goal in the second half.
Madrid Universal brings you the player ratings from the game that brings Real Madrid back to the top of the league table.
Kepa Arrizabalaga: 7
The Spanish shot-stopper looked nervy in Girona’s early attacks down the centre but regained his mojo as the minutes passed. Made vital saves through Girona’s inspired second-half display.
Dani Carvajal: 6
Made his first start coming back from injury and had a low-profile first-half performance. The right-back stuck to the basics and did not try anything too fancy.
Antonio Rudiger: 7
The German centre-back was under pressure in the opening ten minutes when Girona created chance after chance in succession. Came back to thrive under the pressure, although the night was far from easy for him.
Nacho Fernandez: 6
The club captain slotted in at centre-back in the absence of the injured David Alaba in the starting lineup and did well to operate with Rudiger.
His distribution was impeccable, as were his long balls, until he was sent off late in the game for a poor challenge on Portu, giving selection problems to Carlo Ancelotti.
Eduardo Camavinga: 7.5
Ancelotti vowed to not use Eduardo Camavinga at left-back again after last season. That oath was broken on Saturday when the manager chose the Frenchman as his left-back over Fran Garcia and Ferland Mendy.
The youngster, though, did not disappoint, as he was stellar in defence and a crucial part of the team’s pressing structure off the ball.
Aurelien Tchouameni: 8
Tchouameni’s importance at Real Madrid only grows with every passing game. The French international was at the centre of every Real Madrid attack and was enormous on a night when Girona refused to give up.
He scored Real Madrid’s second goal on the night with a thunderous header past Paulo Gazzaniga in the 21st minute. Daley Blind’s lousy marking enabled him to venture free for Kroos’ corner, and the youngster made no distance from point-blank range.
Toni Kroos: 8
Reports of Kroos’ dissatisfaction at Real Madrid surfaced in recent days. Yet, the player showed none of his frustration at Estadi Montilivi.
Kroos was the soul of Real Madrid’s midfield today, involved in every buildup and opening up Girona’s attack on the break. He assisted Tchouameni’s goal in the 21st minute with perfect setpiece execution.
Federico Valverde: 7
Silent, yet essential. Valverde may not be the same goalscoring threat as last season in the new system, but his ability to circulate the ball and contribute to the press is an essential underlying part of Los Blancos’ tactics.
Jude Bellingham: 9
After a deserved rest against Las Palmas, Bellingham was back in action for the Merengues’ game at Montilivi.
The attacking midfielder required just over 15 minutes to weave his magic at the stadium, as he wonderfully unravelled Girona’s defence to assist Joselu’s opener with a Luka Modric-esque trivela pass from the outside of his boot.
He was once again at the heart of the team’s third goal, both creating the chance and scoring it with a finisher’s instinct.
Minimally involved in the play, maximally effective in front of goal. Joselu’s performance against the Catalans had everything a manager could ask of a number nine.
The Spaniard scored Real Madrid’s opening goal of the night in just the 17th minute. Receiving Bellingham’s sumptuous ball, he fired the ball past Gazzaniga with a reflex finish. He then set up the third for the Englishman.
Vinicius Jr: 7.5
The Brazilian phenom may not be the biggest fan of the new system, but he is improving in his new role with every passing game.
Vini Jr. was on-point with his dribbles on the evening, creating openings and providing key passes for fun. Led Real Madrid’s counterattacks time and time again.
Rodrygo Goes: 6
Did not contribute much after coming on. Came close to scoring a late solo goal in the 88th minute.
Dani Ceballos: 6.5
Put in a good defensive shift to preserve Real Madrid’s clean sheet.
Lucas Vazquez: NA
Came on too late to make a tangible impact.
Brahim Diaz: NA
Came on too late to make a tangible impact.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli | UEFA Champions League
Fresh off their 3-0 win against Cadiz at the weekend, Real Madrid return to the field late on Wednesday night to take on Napoli in a critical UEFA Champions League fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A lot has changed since the two teams last met. Napoli sacked Rudi Garcia not so long ago and appointed Walter Mazzarri as the new manager. The Italian got off to a great start in the form of a 2-1 win over Atalanta in his first game in the position.
Yet, he will face his first big test in the form of Real Madrid later tomorrow. The Naples-based side will have a lot to prove to their manager and the fans on the night, but it is clear that the Merengues will not treat the fixture lightly either.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli.
The headlining clash
The UEFA Champions League leaves fans spoilt for choice, for it offers the highest quality of football between some of the world’s best teams on a regular basis. The headlining fixtures begin as early as the group stages and only grow in promise as the season progresses.
When Real Madrid were drawn into Group C in this year’s UCL, all eyes were on the team that would take the next highest-seeded spot. It was eventually Napoli that made the cut, making the Spanish-Italian clash the group’s most-awaited game.
Since then, the two teams have already faced off once at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Matchday two of the competition. The clash was evenly balanced for the most part, but Jude Bellingham’s masterclass enabled a narrow 3-2 Real Madrid win.
Close to two months on, the two European giants face off once more, this time at the Santiago Bernabeu. One cannot help but call the upcoming clash the title clash of the matchday, especially considering the two team’s recent history and what rides on the result.
Real Madrid’s place in the Round of 16 was confirmed after their win over SC Braga in the last matchday. Napoli, however, are yet to secure such confirmation and a defeat tomorrow could potentially reduce their gap over Braga to one point.
Napoli thus need the win to maintain security over their qualification, while Real Madrid hope to cement their place as group leaders with a win. With both teams having a lot riding on the result, the game will have no dearth of life on the night.
Carlo Ancelotti spent many a day in the recent international break plotting means to overcome his midfield crisis. After all, he was without the services of Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga had also suffered a gruesome injury on national team duty.
The manager thus deployed his best midfield quartet for the clash against Cadiz, hoping to improve the harmony between the four stars. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde, and Jude Bellingham all started but the situation got ugly after the 38-year-old walked off injured in the second half.
Ancelotti thus now faces a bottleneck in midfield. Modric has been excluded from the squad after his latest injury, leaving the manager with just four options from the first-team in midfield. Needless to say, all four players are expected to start in Real Madrid’s 4-4-2 diamond formation on the night.
Bellingham will be deployed as the attacking midfielder while Kroos is likely to play as the pivot. The two interiors will be Dani Ceballos and Valverde, the former of whom has not started a single game all season.
The situation in midfield is thus grim, for the manager can not afford any further injuries in the department.
The man in form
The beginning of Real Madrid’s 2023-24 campaign was all about Jude Bellingham. The Englishman could not stop scoring goals for fun across all competitions and single-handedly won games even in situations where all hope seemed lost.
Rodrygo has stolen the limelight from the English protege in recent weeks, and his resurgence could not come at a better time for Ancelotti. After all, the Brazilian was enduring one of his worst-ever starts to a season but managed to find his footing exactly after Bellingham suffered the blow to his shoulder.
The 22-year-old has been nothing short of spectacular in Real Madrid’s recent games. His purple patch began against Braga when he scored once and assisted once to give Los Blancos three critical points.
In the team’s subsequent clash against Valencia, Rodrygo stole the show. In 90 minutes against Los Che, the youngster scored two goals and provided as many assists in the team’s 5-1 win. He added another two goals and an assist to his tally in Real Madrid’s most recent clash against Cadiz.
Needless to say, the spotlight will shine brightly on Rodrygo in tomorrow’s game. As the team’s most in-form player, the onus will be on him to find the required breakthroughs on the night and lead the attack from the front in Vinicius Jr.’s absence.