Although it was far from a perfect performance, it was a deserved victory and would have come by a far bigger margin with better finishing.
There were several strong individual performances to give Zidane food for thought as he looks for his team to gain consistency, and an encouraging display from the creator of the winning goal is the first of our talking points from the game.
HAZARD BACK IN BUSINESS?
It’s fair to say that Eden Hazard has endured a far from ideal start to his Real Madrid career. The Belgian ace arrived amid a blaze of publicity in the summer but was almost immediately criticised for looking overweight, and then suffered a hamstring injury which delayed his debut by a month.
Finally, though, there are now signs that Hazard is starting to live up to his price tag. The former Chelsea man registered his first goal for Los Blancos just before the last international break, netting a well-taken lob in a 4-2 home win over Granada, and after missing Saturday’s trip to Mallorca on paternity leave he produced arguably his best performance for his new club at Galatasaray.
Although Hazard’s assist for Toni Kroos’s opener might have been somewhat accidental – he probably intended to pass to Karim Benzema – he still sparked the move in the first place with a sharp burst down the left wing, encapsulating the threat he posed to the home team’s defence throughout the contest.
It could have been even better for Hazard, who squandered a chance to get on the target in the second half when he rounded home keeper Fernando Muslera but fired against the crossbar, but on this evidence he is developing a smooth understanding with Karim Benzema and now looks well on his way towards becoming an important player for Los Blancos.
COURTOIS GETS A CONFIDENCE BOOST
Hazard wasn’t the only former Chelsea player to deliver a strong performance, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois playing a big role in the victory by making three key saves in the opening period.
The first two – both from Romanian striker Florin Andone – were particularly important as they came in the opening stages when the game was still goalless, preventing Galatasaray from taking a lead which would have hugely changed the dynamic of both the match and Real’s mentality. And neither were straightforward saves, both demanding Courtois to sharply dive to the right to keep out well-struck efforts.
Another save – although this was one he would really expect to make – from Younes Belhanda shortly before the break underlined Courtois’ growing confidence, and he desperately needs to make this performance, which yielded just his third clean sheet of the season, the launchpad for a strong run of form which justifies the club’s decision to make him first choice keeper ahead of Keylor Navas. With a few more performances like this, the sale of the popular Costa Rican keeper to Paris St Germain will gradually start to be forgotten.
VALVERDE AND RODRYGO TAKE THEIR CHANCE
With experienced duo Gareth Bale and Luka Modric both injured, Zidane spurned the option of senior stars Isco and James Rodriguez and instead placed his faith in a pair of youngsters, Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes.
The selection of teenage Rodrygo was a particular eye-opener, with the Brazilian starlet given his first start for the club in a high stakes encounter. But he certainly didn’t look daunted, needing less than 30 seconds to make his first raid into the penalty area and continuing to show maturity beyond his years with.a performance full of endeavour and penetration.
Valverde, though, was even better. The 21 year-old Uruguayan covered every blade of grass to add a real spark of dynamism to his team’s midfield, doing well to support both the back four and the forward line and never hiding away from either the ball or a challenge.
Realistically, the most that Rodrygo can expect over the coming months is occasional outings to cover for injuries, but with Modric now 34 years old and looking like a faded force, there is a big opportunity for Valverde to become a regular member of Zidane’s starting eleven. On this evidence, he fully deserves it.
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