Maybe in the long run, Gary Lineker might have inadvertently done Karim Benzema a favour with his slur on the Madrid forward the other day. The Bernabéu public echoed Zidane’s defence of the French striker by enthusiastically applauding him when he was brought on, 63 minutes into last night’s game. And he looked more motivated than ever as he took to the pitch. He played exactly as Zidane says he should play and that was no more evident than in the build-up play leading up to Marcelo’s wonderful winner. Benzema started the move with a backheel close to the halfway line, sending Theo on his way down the right; Benzema tracked the full-back as the ball was taken forward before playing a sweet one-two with Marcelo, teeing up the Brazilian with an incisive through-ball which was crowned with an angled strike into the bottom corner. It was a real joy to watch – and precisely the kind of move which Zidane talked of in his pre-match briefing with the press.
Marcelo's winner, the jewel in an otherwise grey performance
It was the crowning moment of what otherwise was a relatively dismal Madrid performance. There have been other nights when they have dropped points at the Bernabéu playing much better than they did on Sunday. This time, an uninspired and slightly confused display left them with the prize of all three points and a generous result – because that’s how things can work out in football. An own goal set Madrid on their way. Then, Asensio got back among the goals with a first-time finish after being picked out by Isco. And to end, Marcelo’s winner, courtesy of Benzema, which prompted a sardonic remark from Lineker on Twitter. The player who didn’t find the net was Cristiano, who didn’t have a wealth of chances but didn’t take the ones he was presented with. A few years ago, a Madrid game without at least one goal from Cristiano was a rare occurrence. But it happened again last night.
Casemiro and Co give Madrid security at the back
Maybe this is a good moment to commend the work which Madrid did in the first two thirds of the pitch, by those players who generally tend to get overlooked. Mendilibar said as much in his post-match analysis. His Eibar side saw a lot of the ball but didn’t create chances. Casilla had a reasonably relaxed game. “Madrid are strong in attack, but they are just as strong at the back”, the visiting coach admitted. That pretty much summed it up. It was on the back of that security at the back that Madrid built their win, a vital victory at a point when Barça boast a five-point lead. And today, there a trip to London where it is taken as given that Cristiano will be presented with FIFA’s The Best award which, from this season onward, will be awarded for achievements during the whole season, as opposed to the calendar year.
Brilliant assist from Benzema. With his sort of quality it’s hard to understand why Zidane left him out of the starting lineup. 😉— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) 22 October 2017