Till the first 47 minutes of the game between Real Madrid and PSG, the top three players who had covered the most ground were Real Madrid players. Even more insightful is the fact that those Real Madrid players were Kroos, Casemiro and Isco.
The midfield worked extra shifts vs PSG. With no Modric or James, to dictate play from deep positions, Real Madrid had to resort to good old solid hard work to make the match competitive.
Real Madrid created 15 chances throughout the ninety minutes compared to 5 for PSG. But if you look at the duel won stats (Real Madrid won just 40 percent) and the number of defensive actions taken (above 50 for Real Madrid), it would seem like Real Madrid’s midfield was under the cosh for most of the game.
An honest assessment must conclude that Real Madrid’s midfield was indeed unable to impose itself on the PSG team that played at a very high tempo throughout the game.
The glaring reason for Real Madrid midfield’s inability to command play from the middle of the park was, injuries to key players like:
- Modric, who only came on for the last 20 minutes of the game. Still doesn’t look a hundred percent but his vision and calm on the field did add some much needed authority in the midfield for Real Madrid.
- James Rodriguez
- Gareth Bale
If we put that aside for the purpose of this story then it becomes clear why Real Madrid’s midfield were unable to move the play fluently from the back to the forward line with regularity. Those reasons are:
Casemiro has become something of a star in defensive midfielder role and can take accurate long shots. But he still lacks the passing range which would make him potent against top teams.
Casemiro’s vital interception against Matuidi in an advanced right midfield position led Real Madrid to have their first meaningful crack at PSG’s goal as Matuidi brought him down after getting mugged by him. The resulting free kick was hammered into the wall by Ronaldo for the umpteenth time this season.
He followed that up with a string of clumsy displays by first conceding an unnecessary free kick on the right hand side to Di Maria who can cause damage from his long ball. Second, he brought down Di Maria on the left which lead to another stoppage in play and third, Casemiro lost possession in a dangerous position right in the center of the field which, thankfully, didn’t lead to a shot on goal for PSG.
The up and down form Casemiro goes through during a single match is the single most far reaching aspect of his game that would separate him from the greats of the game like Makelele or Vierra (former Arsenal defensive midfielder) or a young Yaya Toure.
His play reading ability always comes to his rescue when he is having a bad game and the game against PSG was no different in that respect. One of his interceptions led to one of the few counter attacks that had PSG scrambling to organize themselves at the back in the first half.
He backed that up with a decent long shot that dipped and bounced right in front of Trapp (PSG goalkeeper) who made an excellent save to give Real Madrid a much needed corner.
The second half for Casemiro was much quieter and his only mistake was a misplaced pass while trying to switch play from central midfield position. The ball went out and PSG had a freebie on a throw in.
His best moment of the match was when he came across a darting Aurier on left back position (Marcelo was someplace else) like a rottweiler and mugged him just on the goal line which lead to Aurier’s outburst and a subsequent yellow card.
Kroos’s passing range and distribution is sensational but his defensive work and ability to go past at least a single individual needs improvement.
His weak shot from right midfield wasted precious possession time for Real Madrid during the opening, difficult, phase of the match but he more than made up for it with a wonderful disguised pass for Jese which baffled PSG defense. Had Jese been more refined in terms of finishing, Real Madrid would have gone one up quite early in the game.
Unlike Casemiro, Kroos didn’t commit any needless fouls nor got dispossessed except for one single time in the second half.
His corner taking ability was exceptional throughout the night. The swing and curve that Kroos put on his corners, multiple times infact, was vital for the likes of Ronaldo and Varane to get their heads on the ball.
Isco isn’t a deep midfielder. He never was a winger. He doesn’t seem like a playmaker. Isco is just weird.
Isco doesn’t have the power nor the speed to be effective from deep midfield for Real Madrid. His passing range is from short to medium.
He doesn’t have much pace nor trickery to be an effective winger and his decision making ability is not fast enough to be a prominent playmaker.
Isco oddly enough, lies somewhere in between. The oddness is the reason why he is hard to pick up when he plays well and can be decisive in a wide arrange of situations in attacking third of the pitch.
He doesn’t like teams that barge into you every time you get the ball. He is more comfortable with defenders when they back off and try to cover rather than tackle him.
Had a rocky welcome on the pitch when Verratti (PSG’s tenacious defensive midfielder) flattened him with a hard tackle.
Isco took his time to get used to the intensity of the game and once he did, he combined well with Marcelo on the left with some neat, cheeky, short and mixed passing which rattled PSG defenders for a moment or two.
His dogged defensive work enable him to mug PSG on the left side from where he started a run that ended with a weak shot on that resulted in a corner for Real Madrid.
His only purposeful through ball was to Ronaldo in the beginning of the second half which had Ronaldo with a clear shot on goal with his let. Ronaldo hesitated and PSG were able to organize themselves at the back.
Apart from that, Isco had a nice run from a short corner into the penalty area but was closed down with such force that his, normally very reliable, left foot cross into the box went way out of play.
Isco was replaced with Modric on 68th minute mark and within those 20 minutes Modric made double the amount of key passes Isco made in the whole hour or so he was on the pitch.
One of Modric’s delayed but calculated through balls found Lucas which eventually lead to Ronaldo missing the easiest chance of the match and the other lobbed through ball could have presented Ronaldo with a sitter had Cheryshev, the receiver of Modric’s long ball, seen Ronaldo all by himself on the far side, just outside of PSG’s penalty box.
Benitez was of the view that Real Madrid performed exceptionally well given the injury list Real Madrid has had to deal with this season and he is partly right in that assessment.
Had the likes of Isco and Kroos been more decisive in the attacking third who knows how many chances Ronaldo had to have to score a goal.