Zinedine Zidane is fortunate to have a world class squad

Andy West 11/05/2017
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In the end, Real Madrid just had too much quality.

All week, the game had been billed as the cocky aristocrats against the humble labourers and, although that’s a gross simplification of these two clubs from the Spanish capital, it was ultimately a fair summary.

As much as they huffed and puffed and came close to blowing Real’s house down, Atletico couldn’t quite muster the sensational comeback they craved for one simple reason: they were outclassed.

The key moment late in the first half, when Karim Benzema received a long throw-in from Cristiano Ronaldo and produced a brilliant dribble to somehow snake along the byline, taking out Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez and Stefan Savic with a glorious change of feet.

What’s more, Benzema then had the presence of mind and ability to pick out the unmarked Toni Kroos, whose firm shot was repelled by Jan Oblak but prodded home on the rebound by Isco.

He won’t get any credit on the stats sheet but this was Benzema’s goal, and his stunning move summed up the basic difference in quality between the two teams.

Benzema, it should be added, has endured a pretty poor season. He is on course for his lowest goalscoring tally in seven years, and Zinedine Zidane has been forced to endure persistent calls for his compatriot to be replaced in the starting line-up by Alvaro Morata.

But despite his lack of form, Benzema was still able to conjure up a moment of magic which effectively sent his team through to yet another Champions League final appearance.

The biggest key to Real’s success, however, is that this time the key moment came from Benzema, last week it was from Ronaldo, on other occasions it has been from Sergio Ramos, Isco, Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo…the list goes on and on, because Zidane is fortunate enough to command a squad packed with world-class quality all the way through.

Even Los Blancos’ most lowly-ranked substitutes, players like Lucas Vazquez and Nacho, would easily command a starting place at practically every other team in the world, and Ramos’ claim that you could pick any 11 players with your eyes closed and still end up with a brilliant team is spot on.

If Ronaldo doesn’t get you, Benzema will. If neither of them do, someone else will step up, and it’s doubtful whether any manager has ever been fortunate enough to enjoy a squad so talented.

Benzema provided the key moment last night, but he wasn’t the only man to play a role in the result because the final hour of the contest, after Atletico’s initial steam ran out, was completely controlled by the Real midfield trio of Modric, Kroos and Isco.

The latter, in particular, is finally starting to consistently fulfil his obvious potential, and it will now be difficult for Zidane to leave him out.

Actually, scratch that: it will be easy to leave him out, because whoever replaces him will also be a superb player.

That’s all Real Madrid have.

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Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid: Three things you missed

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With Real Madrid holding a 3-0 lead heading into the second leg of the Champions League semi-final, few gave city rivals Atletico Madrid a chance of advancing to this year’s final.

Atletico had other ideas, however, and stunned their derby rivals to take a 2-0 lead within 16 minutes, setting the proverbial cat among the pigeons. But Isco’s goal shortly before halftime after some silky skills from Karim Benzema killed the tie again, and ultimately while Atletico won 2-1 on the night, Real Madrid advanced 4-2 on aggregate.

Here are three things you may have missed from Wednesday’s game…

REAL MADRID’S SEND-OFF PARTY

When Real Madrid’s players left for the game, they had a sizable crowd waiting to send them off.

Their walk to the team bus was lined by young fans waiting to wish their heroes luck ahead of the second leg.

It wasn’t quite the crowd that had shown up to welcome the bus into the Santiago Bernabeu ahead of the first leg, but it was a sight to behold nonetheless.

VICENTE CALDERON BIDS FAREWELL TO EUROPE – AND MADRID DERBIES

With Atletico Madrid moving from the Vicente Calderon at the end of this season, this was the grand old stadium’s final European game.

Of equal, if not more importance, however, was the fact that it would also be the final Madrid derby played at the Calderon.

With that in mind, there was a pointed message for Atletico’s city rivals displayed in the stands: “Proud to not be like you.” Same as ever, then.

ZIDANE, JUVENTUS VS REAL MADRID, AND CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINALS

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has always held Juventus in high esteem after his five years with the Italian club before his then-world-record transfer to Madrid, so this season’s Champions League final will be a special one for the Frenchman.

There’s also his personal history in Champions League finals to consider. Zidane won in his first-ever final as a manager, last year, and also won the only time he made it to the final with Real Madrid, scoring a famous goal in the 2002 showpiece.

In fact, the last time he lost in a Champions League final, he was playing for Juventus – and against Real Madrid. What a quirk of fate it would be if his perfect record with Los Blancos ended at the hands of his old club.

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Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid: 7 Deadly Stats

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Despite facing a 3-0 deficit from the first leg, Atletico Madrid were never going to go quietly in their Champions League semi-final. In the last European game and final Madrid derby at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon stadium, the hosts stunned Real Madrid by going 2-0 up within 16 minutes.

Real Madrid gradually found their feet, however, and then killed the tie thanks to some beautiful skill from Karim Benzema. The Frenchman beat three Atletico defenders to set up Toni Kroos, and although the German’s shot was brilliantly saved by Jan Oblak, Isco was on hand to slot home from the rebound.

Atletico huffed and puffed after that, and had their chances, but ultimately it will be Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

Here are seven deadly stats from Wednesday’s second leg…

SAUL, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SPECIALIST

Saul was the man who killed Leicester City’s hopes of a comeback in the quarter-finals, and on Wednesday he gave Atletico Madrid hope of pulling off a miraculous comeback of their own.

The midfielder seems to bring his best in the Champions League, especially in the knockout stages.

Four of his seven Champions League goals have come in the knockout stages, and he’s now scored against both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in Champions League semi-finals.

GRIEZMANN THE BEST OF THE REST?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi occupy a planet of their own, but the title for best player among mere mortals has been up for grabs for quite a while. From Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Frank Ribery a few years ago to Luis Suarez and Neymar recently, many have made their cases.

But is it now Antoine Griezmann’s spot to lose?

He’s usually thought of as the best player in La Liga not playing at Real Madrid or Barcelona, and his goal on Wednesday bolstered his claim that in the Champions League, he deserves even more praise.

REAL MADRID TURN UP…

After looking shell-shocked by Atletico Madrid’s strong start to the second leg, Real Madrid finally got going, settling into a rhythm that allowed them to take control of the game.

Toni Kroos and Luka Modric began bossing the game in midfield, while Isco was proving to be a menace whenever he got onto the ball, and Atletico Madrid were soon on the back foot again.

Going 2-0 down within 16 minutes could have sent Real Madrid into a panic. Instead, they rose to the challenge.

…AND SCORE, LIKE THEY ALWAYS DO

The last time Real Madrid failed to score was in last season’s Champions League semi-final, when Manchester City held them to a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

So even with a 2-0 lead, Atletico Madrid probably knew that the 3-0 win they needed on the night (just to take the game into extra time) wasn’t going to happen .

Isco’s goal towards the end of the first half meant that Atletico needed another three to progress, thus effectively killing the tie.

Real Madrid’s scoring streak will now face the ultimate test: Juventus’ defence.

ISCO ENDING THE SEASON IN TOP FORM

Isco only gets into the Real Madrid starting XI when there are injuries to first-choice players, but the Spaniard excels whenever he’s given the chance.

He was one of the standout performers against Bayern Munich in the previous round, and he looked like Real Madrid’s biggest threat again on Wednesday, even before his goal.

The 25-year-old is capable of sublime skill, always knows how to find a pass, and pops up with vital goals.

Yet, the question remains: if Gareth Bale is fit by June 3 – he’ll have the added incentive of playing in a Champions League final in his hometown of Cardiff – will Isco be relegated to the bench again?

KARIM BENZEMA’S SILKY SKILL

The skill Karim Benzema produced to leave three Atletico Madrid defenders trailing in his wake was absolutely sublime.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to do justice to such moments with mere numbers. Here, however, the numbers add to the story.

Benzema had to beat three players. He beat one, then another – with a third being taken out of the equation for good measure. And then, Madrid scored.

MODRIC AND ISCO WERE UNTOUCHABLE

Real Madrid having more possession and more passes was expected. That is their style, and Atletico Madrid’s style is to let the opposition have the ball.

Real Madrid having not one but two players who completed more take-ons than the entire Atletico team? That’s special.

Atletico are known for having a hard-nosed, no-nonsense defence, but Isco and Luka Modric made them look silly at times. The Real Madrid duo were practically untouchable.

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