Roma 0-2 Real Madrid: Talking points as absence of Isco points to issue with Solari

Andy West 28/11/2018
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Real Madrid’s latest crisis was halted in its tracks by an ultimately comfortable 2-0 Champions League victory at Roma on Wednesday night.

But the outcome could have been very different after Roma enjoyed the better of the first half, with one moment in particular proving decisive…

UNDER GOES OVER

With both teams already safely qualified thanks to CSKA Moscow’s defeat to Viktoria Plzen earlier in the day, this game became largely irrelevant and will perhaps be best remembered in years to come for a remarkable incident shortly before half-time.

Dani Carvajal was in possession but under pressure deep inside his own half, and rather than clearing out for a throw in he attempted to retain possession with a risky backheel towards goal.

It went straight to Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo, who was able to roll a simple pass across the face of goal perfectly into the path of Cengiz Under, who had the simple task of sweeping an unmissable close-range finish past the stranded Thibaut Courtois.

Instead, though, Under somehow did manage to miss, side-footing the ball high over the crossbar in a manner he surely couldn’t have contrived if he had tried. The near 60,000 crowd held their collective breath in amazement at what they had seen, and a distraught Under had to be consoled by his teammates as he headed down the tunnel a few minutes later.

Unfortunately, though, his place in the history books is already assured: it is no exaggeration to say his howler was surely the miss of the season, and perhaps even the worst ever seen in the history of the competition.

CRISIS AVERTED… FOR NOW

Santiago Solari

Santiago Solari

Under’s memorable for all the wrong reasons over seemed to condition the rest of the game, with Roma still looking to be in a state of shock at the start of the second half and sleepily allowing Gareth Bale to open the scoring with a helping hand from sloppy errors by goalkeeper Robin Olsen and centre back Federico Fazio.

From that moment the outcome never looked in doubt, with the only question being how many more goals Real would score as Roma fell apart. In the end, only one more was added as Lucas Vazquez slotted into an empty goal after nice approach play by Bale and Karim Benzema, but Los Blancos were able to cruise through the final stages untroubled.

In the wake of Saturday’s shock loss at Eibar, this was exactly the tonic Real needed. Another loss would have put serious question marks next to new manager Santiago Solari even this early in his reign, and made the upcoming league meeting with Valencia an absolute must-win affair to avoid another full-blown crisis.

There’s still a very long way to go before Real can truly start to believe their season is back on track. But the renaissance had to start somewhere, and maybe in months to come we will look back on this win in the Italian capital – perhaps even more specifically Under’s glaring miss – as the turning point Solari desperately needed.

ISCO MISSING AGAIN 

Isco looks on the bench for the clash with Viktoria Plzen

Isco looks on from the bench for the clash with Viktoria Plzen

The name on everyone’s lips when the teams were announced was a player not even involved in the action: Real midfielder Isco, who was very surprisingly left out of the squad altogether, with Mariano Diaz, Fede Valverde and Vinicius Junior all preferred on the bench.

Apparently there was no injury concern for Isco to explain his absence, so it now looks certain that there is some kind of problem between the Spain international and new manager Solari, who has not picked the midfielder in any of his starting line-ups so far.

Exactly what has been going on remains unclear, but it would appear logical that his omission was a disciplinary measure after Isco showed his displeasure at his lack of recent playing time.

It’s far too early to say whether or not Isco will have any chance of redemption under Solari, but we can be sure to see his name appear in plenty of headlines in the build-up to Saturday’s game at home to Valencia.

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Roma 0-2 Real Madrid player ratings as Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio impress

Andy West 28/11/2018
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Gareth Bale celebrates

Real Madrid got back into winning ways with a much-needed 2-0 victory over Roma to effectively secure top spot.

How did the players rate?

ROMA 4-2-3-1

Olsen 6. A shocking kick out helped gift the opener to Bale, but he made a few decent stops to prevent a heavier loss.

Florenzi 6. Attempted to set a captain’s example with some determined attacking play, but struggled defensively at times.

Manolas 6. Attempted to hold together the back line for the hosts and was concise and constructive in possession.

Fazio 4. An inexplicable back header straight to Bale handed Real the opener, and he was regularly troubled by Benzema’s movement.

Kolarov 5. Fizzed a long-range bomb inches wide and was classy in possession, but found it hard to contain Vazquez’s directness.

Nzonzi 4. Played conservatively, lacking his usual powerful impact before being replaced, clearly disgruntled, midway through the second half.

Cristante 6. The most active of Roma’s midfielders, getting on the ball and threatening to unlock the visiting defence.

Under 5. Showed some skill down the right and delivered good set pieces, but guilty of the miss of the season to derail Roma.

Zaniolo 5. Largely passed by as Roma sought to attack down the flanks, but did neatly tee up Under’s shocking miss.

El Sharaawy 6. Made a few sharp early bursts down the left before being forced off by injury midway through the first half.

Schick 5. Replaced Edin Dzeko but lacked his presence. Scuffed a decent chance straight at Courtois and had another effort blocked.

SUBSTITUTES 

Kluivert 5. Had a good chance almost immediately after being introduced but blazed it too high. Failed to catch the eye.

Coric 5. Came on for Nzonzi but failed to improve Roma in the centre of the pitch, struggling to assert himself.

Karsdorp 5. Entered the fray midway through the second half but was practically anonymous, offering very little.

REAL MADRID 4-3-3

Courtois 6. Made a decent low stop from Kluivert’s second half driven effort, and was otherwise well protected by his defence.

Carvajal 7. Made a heroic block to deny a certain goal and was generally strong, but lucky to escape conceding after a sloppy error.

Varane 7. A key early clearance inside the box precluded a solid performance, much improved from his recent form.

Ramos 7. Defended with determination and rigour, anticipating Roma’s attacks well and diverting several crosses.

Marcelo 6. Caught out of position a few times but always looking to contribute coming forward…pretty much standard.

Modric 6. Struggled in the first half when Roma were on top, but bossed the game after Madrid took over in the second period.

Llorente 6. Introduced to add some bite into midfield and fulfilled his task well enough, but needs more confidence on the ball.

Kroos 6. A so-so performance from a player who clearly possesses class but looks to be going through the motions at times.

Vazquez 7. Surprise selection on the right wing and provided a spark, popping up inside the box for a simple finish for the second goal.

Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (L) celebrates with Lucas Vazquez

Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos (L) celebrates with Lucas Vazquez

Benzema 7. Some nice approach play and was unselfish to tee up Vazquez for an easy finish rather than going for goal himself.

Bale 7. Took the opener well and nearly scored again just after. Also delivered the cross for Vazquez’s goal.

SUBSTITUTES 

Mariano 5. Replaced Vazquez for the final 15 minutes but barely had any chance to shine, kept very quiet.

Valverde 6. Given a rare outing in the centre of midfield to rest Modric and he looked accomplished enough.

Asensio 7. Came on for Bale inside the final ten minutes and enjoyed the wide open spaces left by Roma, regularly threatening.

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Santiago Solari needs to be ruthless at Real Madrid after rude awakening

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Perhaps Santiago Solari should have stayed interim manager.

In his first game in charge of Real Madrid since being named the permanent manager of the club, Solari saw his side slump to a 3-0 defeat to Eibar. That’s the second time Los Blancos have been beaten 3-0 on the road, following their loss to Sevilla earlier in the season, and of course there was also the 5-1 reverse to Barcelona. It certainly hasn’t been happy travels for this Madrid side.

The result means Solari’s start, becoming the first manager to win his first four games for Real Madrid, is already irrelevant. The crisis he had eased with that run of victories is back.

And Solari himself has questions to answer.

Why does he not start Isco? The Spanish playmaker has suffered a drop in form at times this season, sandwiched around his appendicitis-induced layoff, but he almost always looks like Madrid’s best player, the most likely one to make anything happened.

Is it time to break up the Luka ModricToni Kroos axis? That midfield duo had seen a mini-revival over the previous four games, but they can often look slow and outmatched, especially without Casemiro, as they were on Saturday.

Who does he target up front? Karim Benzema keeps getting praise from various quarters, but his powers are waning. Gareth Bale started the season on a tear, looking ready to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, but has since fallen off. And Marco Asensio doesn’t even have the benefit of early-season form to make his case.

Vinicius Junior, who came on as a substitute on Saturday – though by that time the game was already gone – deserves a chance to start and show what he can do when more responsibility is thrust upon him.

Likewise, until the transfer window opens in January and reinforcements can be brought in, perhaps it’s time to turn to Lucas Vazquez, who is less talented than Asensio or Isco but usually puts in performances filled with desire and determination – qualities that seem to have gone missing from this Madrid side.

Is it time to drop Sergio Ramos? The Madrid captain continues to earn accolades as one of the best centre-backs around, but his defending has bordered on the reckless this season. Trying too much to be a Franz Beckenbauer-like conductor of Madrid’s attack, he instead gets caught out of position and leaves the rest of his defence to pick up the pieces.

And, big transfer fee or not, Thibaut Courtois has not been up to scratch in goal. The defence isn’t helping, but Courtois’ own form has tanked. Luckily for Madrid, they have a backup goalkeeper good enough to start for most sides in the world in Keylor Navas.

Solari has decisions to make regarding his squad over the next month. Now that he’s no longer interim manager, he can afford to be ruthless – and he may have to be if his spell as permanent manager is to last long enough for the former Madrid player to have an impact.

A defensive injury crisis means for now, Ramos’ position is safe, though Courtois may not be. Further up the pitch, hard calls need to be taken. Modric – Ballon d’Or favourite though he might be – and Kroos aren’t playing at the all-conquering level of two years ago.

Dropping them might provoke a response from the players themselves, while Solari can see what Dani Ceballos – who himself admittedly had a poor outing on Saturday – and Marcos Llorente are capable of given a longer run in the side.

And something has to change up front. Vinicius clearly did enough to impress Solari during their time together for Madrid’s Castilla side, because the young Brazilian is getting more chances with the first team than he did under previous manager Julen Lopetegui.

With Asensio, Benzema, and Bale all misfiring, the front three is in dire need of rejuvenation. A starting berth for Vinicius, and a recall for Isco, are in order.

One thing is for certain. Despite making the best start ever for a Madrid manager, Solari’s honeymoon period is over. Saturday was a rude awakening – now it’s time to see how the manager reacts.

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