It was a match that Real Madrid deserved to win and Malaga didn’t deserve to lose. Well, if it wasn’t for an awful referee decision Malaga would have lost the game by 1-0, which would have been the perfect result for the night.

A 0-0 draw might give you the impression that the game was tedious but actually, it was anything but. Real Madrid had chances to kill off Malaga really early in the game but luck wasn’t on Real Madrid’s side.

Malaga came to Bernabeu and gave out a good display of grit and determination. Malaga could have won the game were it not for some sturdy Real Madrid defense.

Before we do that let’s just list out players who are currently injured:

  • Sergio Ramos
  • Pepe
  • James
  • Bale
  • Jesse (got injured during the match.)
  • Danillo

Now, with that out of the way it shouldn’t be hard to understand why Benitez went with the following line up:

  • Navas
  • Carvajal
  • Varane
  • Nacho
  • Marcelo
  • Modric
  • Kroos
  • Isco
  • Ronaldo
  • Benzema
  • Kovacic (came on for injured Jesse in the 60th minute)

Malaga had good attacking ability with the likes of Amrabat and Tighadouini playing upfront.

It is very clear that Real Madrid did not start with their first choice defense. In fact, at the start of the season three out of back four for Real Madrid tonight were benchwarmers. It is accurate that Malaga hadn’t scored a single goal so far this season but one should not forget that fact that they haven’t conceded much either.

A total of three goals they let in since the start of this season which is reasonably good.

So how did Real Madrid control and actually gag Malaga attack? Let’s break down what each defender did individually to shut out a solid Malaga attack force:

Keylor Navas

Keylor Navas in an interview

Navas had to come into action fairly early on in the game. A bullet header from a corner was directed straight down his throat which he held onto to firmly.

Malaga deployed the strategy of first sucking Real Madrid’s players into attacking their penalty area and then hit them on the break when all were in advanced positions. That meant that Navas had to prepare himself for regular counter attacks throughout the game. Which he did.

Amrabat (Malaga’s best hope for a goal on the night) tried to score a Florenzi goal against Navas but Navas was upto the task as Amrabat shot was nowhere as good as Florenzi’s.

He showed great anticipatory skills to come offline, in the first half, to thwart another through ball opportunity for Malaga on the edge of the penalty area.

That’s wasn’t even his best save. Navas’s best save came from a Malaga free kick in the second half. That astonishing save, saved Real Madrid blushes in front of the home fans.


carvajal defending against Malaga

Had relatively less to do in defense as Malaga were more focused on getting a draw rather than a win. He was heavily involved in the attacking third of the pitch all night long which had the double benefit of keeping Malaga attackers ensconced in defensive positions and giving Real Madrid an extra man on the wings in advanced positions.

Early in the first gave a good shoulder push to Tighadouini and then on the other end of the pitch delivered a great cross to Ronaldo from the right wing.

carvajal running past Bayern Munich

Carvajal, always a threat in attack as he was against Malaga

Later in the second half, had the wits about him to show some good footwork in the penalty area of Malaga on the right hand side but his end product, a low cross, was blocked by Malaga defenders.

Real Madrid defended very high on the pitch which gave Carvajal many opportunities to go forward and help out in attack. He tried to surprise Kameni with a cross that was a disguised shot on goal and Kameni reacted well to stop it.


Varane heading the ball

His jumping ability was instrumental in keeping Malaga crosses at bay

Varane had a solid game as his pace was enough to deal with anything Malaga threw at Real Madrid. He defended well when he was tested on 1v1 situations on the wings near his own penalty area and had the technique to clear out a moon ball deflected cross from the penalty area with a strong header.

It wasn’t all rosy for Varane as he was lucky to not have been punished by Malaga attack when he missed a simple header from a corner as a result of not jumping high enough.

His poor back pass to Navas put Navas in the tight spot but thankfully, Navas was able to put his foot through it to clear the ball out of danger.

Varane looking proud

Before the half was over, Amrabat made sure Varane got a taste of his own medicine when he put his studs into Varane’s ankle on the right wing.

In the second half it was Varane’s foul to stop Malaga’s counter attack from bearing fruit which lead to a free kick in a dangerous position which Navas saved expertly.


Nacho great tackle on Amrabat

Was given a rare start, not because of his work on the training ground, but because there was simply no other option for Benitez. Nacho was able to proof to Benitez that he was right to use him as a sub and not as a starter.

It wasn’t that Nacho was poor against Malaga, it was the simple fact that he wasn’t great either. And to be a starter at Real Madrid, you have to be great at your position.

Early on in the game Nacho blocked some good shots and demonstrated reasonable pace to get to a through ball which was played behind Real Madrid’s defense by Malaga.

But later gave away the ball for a throw in a dangerous area after winning the ball first with strong tackling and then losing it for reasons unknown to the same player.

Nacho in action

Never the one to shy away from getting stuck in there

His covering skills were superb when he blocked Amrabat’s shot from inside the penalty area on the left hand side and won the ball back moments later for Real Madrid with some strong tackling.

His clearance of an awkward cross from the right and clear headedness was exemplary against Malaga.

But in the second half, Nacho needlessly levelled Amrabat on a Malaga counter attack and earned himself a yellow card and couldn’t clear a high lobbed ball on the break which lead to a dangerous Malaga counter attack.

Nacho’s up and down performances throughout the duration of the game is the reason why he can expect some more time on the bench once Ramos comes back from injury.


Marcelo against Malaga

Desperately tried to beat Malaga defenders to make chances for other players throughout the game and never let up even when Malaga had parked the bus in front of the goal in the second half.

Marcelo was, again, the center of chance creation from the left side of the field for Real Madrid and his rabbit hole attacks were very effective in opening up Malaga’s rigid defense in the first half.

Malaga had a clear game plan to play the ball long and high behind Marcelo as he is mostly forward creating danger but Nacho and Kroos were up to the task to provide Marcelo the necessary cover.

Marcelo in Champions League

Always in action

Marcelo delivered some great crosses into the box but none were put in by an (on the night as a whole) inefficient duo of Ronaldo and Benzema.

He did put some loose balls to the forwards which gave away possession to Malaga but made up for that with his wide array of passing from the left.

At one point, he put in a long ball from the left flank straight to Carvajal who was in an advanced position on the right flank which really opened up Malaga. Sadly, Carvajal’s cross was not upto the mark as it went straight into goalkeeper’s hands.

His no look pass from left wing near Malaga’s penalty area was the key to succeeding events which lead to a host of chances for Real Madrid just before half time.

Marcelo jumping

Marcelo always trying for the spectacular

In the second half, Marcelo continued to dribble past Malaga defenders on the wings and put in some great crosses into the box.

As a reward for his efforts, he was elbowed in the face by Amrabat in the second half for which he was red carded. In my mind, Amrabat just couldn’t get past Marcelo’s pace at the back  and his shot blocking ability which led to the incident towards the end of the game.

Marcelo wa involved in perhap the best chance of the game for Real Madrid when he whipped in a bullet cross for Ronaldo to get a header on goal, which he couldn’t and the game ended at 0-0.

Overall, a very aggressive performance from Marcelo who was probably helped by the fact that Malaga were only interested in attacking on the break.


Keylor Navas juggling in training

Ray Hudson (a well known commentator) was spot on when he said that even though Malaga haven’t had an attacking mindset coming into the game, it was Keylor Navas’s save from the free kick in the second half which saved Real Madrid from utter humiliation at the hands of a Malaga side that has not scored this season.

Malaga had some good chances on goal on the break but Real Madrid’s back four were prudent enough to thwart them all. Marcelo and Carvajal kept Malaga occupied with defense rather than attack while Varane’s and Nacho’s tackling ability was enough to stop Malaga coming forward through the middle.