The UEFA Champions is known for pitting Europe’s biggest names against each other year after year as they fight for glory.
However, one of the equally enthralling parts of the competition is the pedestal it gives the lesser-known sides to brush shoulders with the elite.
Often, such teams do not have much to lose and push to the very end against some of the competition favourites. Real Madrid’s clash against Union Berlin was a reflection of the same.
Real Madrid had only failed to score in only one of their last 68 home UCL clashes ahead of Wednesday’s game. However, the Berlin-based side frustrated the hosts with resilient defence and almost held them to a shocking draw in Group C.
In the end, it was only a last-minute winner from Jude Bellingham that gave his side all three points.
Madrid Universal brings you the player ratings from the Merengues’ UCL curtain raiser.
Kepa Arrizabalaga: 6
Kepa was largely undisturbed on the night, for Union rarely ventured far forward enough to threaten on goal. Almost paid for a moment of distraction in the opening period but followed it up with a solid show whenever called into action.
Lucas Vazquez: 7.5
With Daniel Carvajal missing the UCL opener through fitness troubles, Lucas Vazquez made his first start of the season for Los Blancos on Wednesday night.
He did not have much defensive work to put in but made a tangible impact on the final third with his incisive passes and combination play.
Vazquez recorded over 100 passes and provided six key passes against Union Berlin.
Antonio Rudiger: 7.5
The Berlin-based star was rock solid in defence for Real Madrid against the team based in his hometown. He struck the right balance of caution and physicality to play it safe whilst also giving the visitors no chance in the final third.
Made a stunning 14 defensive actions at Santiago Bernabeu.
David Alaba: 6.5
The Austrian star started at left-back as Ancelotti opted to give Fran Garcia some rest amidst the hectic schedule. Was solid defensively, albeit had little to do on that front. Moved to central defence after Garcia was substituted in the second half.
Nacho Fernandez: 6.5
The captain started in central defence on the night and played 73 minutes for Los Blancos. Despite his relative dearth of playing time, he was confident with both his distribution and defensive actions on the night.
Luka Modric: 8.5
The Croatian star started the game against Union Berlin and dictated the tempo of play. Delivered a performance for the ages, as has become a norm for him.
Modric completed five key passes on the night, 95% of his passes and a staggering five long balls. Had a solid strike from distance parried away by the goalkeeper in the 70th minute. Came off for the final 10 minutes.
Aurelien Tchouameni: 7
The French international was reliable in the pivot position, as he has been this season. Yet, he was lucky to escape with a yellow card in the first half for an unnecessarily dangerous challenge that had even the referee considering a red card.
Eduardo Camavinga: 8
Starting in midfield, Camavinga was a regular part of Real Madrid’s build-up play, especially with his driving runs forward. Provided an astonishing four key passes, completed 100% of his long balls, and completed over 90% of his passes on the night.
Jude Bellingham: 8
The new signing was a positive influence on the field, yet nowhere close to the high standards he set for himself with recent performances. Mounted regular threats in the final third and did well to link up with Modric, Kroos, and Joselu.
Despite his relatively off day, he was there when his team needed him the most. Pounced on the rebound off Valverde’s long-range strike to gift Real Madrid another late win.
The Brazilian prodigy started slowly but grew in importance as the game progressed. While he did have his moments of brilliance in the second half, Rodrygo was never involved to the extent one would expect him to.
When on the ball, the youngster did well to find space. Unfortunately, he did not get the ball regularly enough and was nullified by the Union defence and shotstopper.
The veteran got into great goalscoring positions early into the game but just could not find the right finish. Minutes past the hour mark, he once again found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat but fluffed the chance.
The whole game that followed was more of the same. Joselu had no luck in front of the goal and could not score despite recording over eight shots.
Toni Kroos: 7
The German maestro brought more finesse and composure to Real Madrid’s midfield, but it just was almost not enough on the night.
Federico Valverde: 8
Replacing Camavinga, Valverde did a good job of teeing up with the forwards to generate more threat in the final third.
Created the space and chance for Bellingham to deposit the winner.
Fran Garcia: 6
The Spanish full-back came on as a late substitute at left-back but could not generate much serious threat in the final third.
Brahim Diaz: NA
Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
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.