Hazard bolsters Zidane's old guard but Madrid stumble

By Sports Desk February 16, 2020

Real Madrid's most memorable attacking moment during the first half of their title-race twisting 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo was Sergio Ramos launching into one of his driving runs in search of a goal, only to volley the ball into his own face when it arrived.

This botched attack had a claim beyond slapstick, given Zinedine Zidane's LaLiga leaders failed to muster a single shot on target before the break.

Indeed, there was nothing remotely as incisive from an forward line featuring Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale as the move Celta produced for their seventh-minute opener – Iago Aspas shifting smoothly into a pocket of space in front of a ramshackle Madrid defence and threading a perfect pass for Fedor Smolov to coolly slot home.

Hazard was making his first appearance since suffering a fractured ankle in November and, shortly after Ramos' party piece, showed signs of starting to shift through the gears.

In the 40th minute, Karim Benzema pulled out to the left channel and Hazard scampered around the outside, pulling the ball back from the byline for the on-rushing Bale to fire narrowly over.

It was link-up play to cheer Zidane as he tries to get his returning attackers up to speed ahead of the Champions League showdown against Manchester City later this month.

On this evidence, however, Hazard and Bale are playing for one spot. The ever-dependable Benzema is a guaranteed starter, fitness permitting, and Los Blancos missed the benched Vinicius Jr's dynamism for much of Sunday's contest.

Having set themselves a low bar in the first-half, Madrid improved considerably during the second period and hit the front thanks to a couple of sure things.

Toni Kroos' midfield scheming is not annotated with goals too frequently, but he dispatched Marcelo's pass to score for the sixth time against Celta. He has 14 LaLiga goals overall since joining Madrid from Bayern Munich in 2014.

Ramos is, by comparison, somewhat more prolific from centre-back. A smart finish from an offside position showed his radar to be back in order following the earlier mishap and there was little doubt about the outcome when he stepped up for a 65th-minute penalty.

Ruben Blanco erred badly when Benzema and Hazard repeated their first-half link, with the Celta goalkeeper darting from his ground to needlessly bring the Belgium star down.

Blanco guessed correctly but Ramos' sprung from his staggered run-up to dispatch an unerring strike.

Hazard made way for Vinicius in the 73rd minute and enjoyed a warm ovation from the Bernabeu faithful – the sort of reception that sadly only seems to exist in the past tense for Bale nowadays.

As for the other grizzled survivors of Zidane's three consecutive Champions League final triumphs from 2016 through to 2018, they remain his dependables.

They will be asked to go to the well once more the next time Madrid emerge at their famous home ground, faced with a formidable but flawed City in a competition they know like the back of their hand.

It would be a brave person who backs against them but the sight of Celta producing a sting in the tail suggested the years could be taking a toll.

Substitutes Denis Suarez and Santi Mina combined as Aspas and Smolov had before for the latter to score – the lines of communication between Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane in the backline again appearing unhelpfully clogged.

The lead at the top of LaLiga from Barcelona was only a point at full-time, a situation roughly as comfortable as booting a football into your own face.

Of course, Ramos tumbled theatrically in stoppage time to try and win another penalty and Madrid will strain and scrap for everything until the end of the season. With 46 goals from 24 LaLiga games, don't expect them to blow too many teams away either. The Galactico grind is on.

Related items

  • Coronavirus: Guardiola's mother dies after contracting COVID-19, Man City confirm Coronavirus: Guardiola's mother dies after contracting COVID-19, Man City confirm

    Pep Guardiola's mother has died aged 82 after contracting coronavirus, Manchester City have confirmed.

    Dolors Sala Carrio passed away in Barcelona on Monday, with the club releasing a statement on their official Twitter account.

    It read: "The Manchester City family are devastated to report the death today of Pep's mother Dolors Sala Carrio in Manresa, Barcelona after contracting coronavirus. She was 82 years old.

    "Everyone associated with the club sends their most heartfelt sympathy at this most distressing time to Pep, his family and all their friends."

    Guardiola was reported to have returned home to Spain before the country was put on lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.

    He made a €1million donation to the Angel Soler Daniel Foundation last month, with a view to boosting investment in medical equipment in Catalonia.

    Spain has been affected by COVID-19 more than any other European country, with over 135,000 confirmed cases as of Monday.

    More than 13,000 people have lost their lives after contracting the virus, which emerged in China late last year.

  • Lionel Messi: Barcelona star's greatest Champions League displays Lionel Messi: Barcelona star's greatest Champions League displays

    When Barcelona were in danger of losing to Arsenal in the 2009-10 Champions League quarter-finals, Lionel Messi – as he so often does – turned the game on its head.

    Monday marks 10 years since Messi took that game against Arsenal by the scruff of the neck and produced one of the stand-out displays of his illustrious career.

    The Argentina great has lifted the Champions League trophy on four occasions and is the second-highest scoring player in the competition's history, sitting 14 adrift of all-time leader Cristiano Ronaldo's haul of 128 goals.

    We take a look back at some of Messi's greatest performances in the Champions League

     

    April 6, 2010 – Barcelona 4-1 Arsenal (6-3 agg)

    After they came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in the first leg at Emirates Stadium, Nicklas Bendtner put Arsenal ahead for the first time in the tie after 19 minutes in the return game at Camp Nou.

    Messi ensured it was Barcelona who progressed to the semi-finals, though.

    He slammed a stunning finish past Manuel Almunia two minutes later and slotted home a pass from Pedro to double his tally.

    A stunning chip over Almunia gave Messi his hat-trick before half-time, and he rounded off the 4-1 victory by grabbing a fourth at the second attempt after the Arsenal keeper stopped his initial effort at the end of a fine solo run.

     

    April 27, 2011 – Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona

    A semi-final Clasico made for a mouth-watering prospect and, of course, Messi delivered on the grand stage.

    No list of his greatest goals would be complete without his second against arch-rivals Madrid. A one-two with Sergio Busquets enabled him to race free of Lassana Diarra and he shifted through the gears to skip away from Sergio Ramos and Raul Albiol.

    He then darted in front of Marcelo and slid the ball beyond Iker Casillas to silence the Santiago Bernabeu.

    A 1-1 draw in the second leg sent Barca into the final to face Manchester United…

     

    May 28, 2011 – Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

    In a repeat of the 2009 final, the outcome at Wembley proved the same.

    Messi caused Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic problems from the off and, with the game locked at 1-1 after Wayne Rooney cancelled out Pedro's opener, he found the back of the nine minutes after half-time.

    After dropping deep from his centre-forward position, he received a pass from Andres Iniesta and drove forward before unleashing a powerful effort into the bottom-right corner.

    David Villa completed the scoring as Barca came out on top against Alex Ferguson's side again.

     

    March 7, 2012 – Barcelona 7-1 Bayer Leverkusen

    Leverkusen were on the receiving end of the greatest individual goalscoring display in Champions League history.

    Messi became the first player to score five in a single game in Europe's premier club competition, enrapturing Camp Nou with a supreme performance in the second leg of this last-16 tie.

    He got the ball rolling by scooping a long pass from Xavi beyond Bernd Leno, while his second came in trademark fashion – dribbling across the box from the right and firing a left-footed shot into the corner.

    After a delightful chip to secure his hat-trick in the 49th minute, a stunning exchange of passes with Pedro preceded an error from Leno that Messi nipped in to punish.

    A cool 18-yard finish left coach Pep Guardiola with an astonished look on his face. He had witnessed a performance for the ages.

     

    May 6, 2015 – Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich

    Guardiola returning to Camp Nou as Bayern boss was the big story ahead of kick-off, but Messi was the only subject of conversation after the final whistle.

    It took 77 minutes for Messi to find the breakthrough, and his second three minutes later likely still gives Jerome Boateng nightmares.

    He sent Germany international Boateng to the deck by turning inside and back out on the right side of the box. He then sent a wonderful dink over Manuel Neuer.

    To cap things off Messi fed Neymar for a counter-attacking third in the 94th minute, and Barca went on to beat Juventus in the final and claim the trophy.

  • MLS 24 years on: Beckham, Zlatan and the landmark moments MLS 24 years on: Beckham, Zlatan and the landmark moments

    On April 6, 1996, the United States of America embraced a new competition as Major League Soccer debuted in San Jose.

    After the collapse of the North American Soccer League 12 years earlier, a new 10-team league had formed, hoping to ride the crest of a wave from USA hosting the 1994 World Cup.

    To mark 24 years to the day since Eric Wynalda's 88th-minute strike earned San Jose Clash a 1-0 win over DC United, we look at the biggest landmarks in MLS' history so far.

     

    1996 - THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA

    As part of the agreement to award USA the 1994 World Cup, the United States Soccer Federation had to commit to starting a new elite league.

    The result was the formation of MLS - a 10-team competition with clubs such as LA Galaxy, DC United and New England Revolution all involved in that inaugural campaign.

    DC United came from 2-0 down to beat the Galaxy 3-2 in the MLS Cup in front of 34,643 fans in Massachusetts.

    2001 - HUNT TO THE RESCUE

    After four years of dwindling attendances, the future of MLS appeared bleak when commissioner Don Garber staged a meeting in 2001 attended by both club owners and bankruptcy attorneys.

    The league had lost $250million since its first game, but Philip Anschutz, the Kraft and Hunt families stepped forward to bankroll the 11 franchises between them.

    The late Lamar Hunt had convinced owners not to fold the league, and it proved a shrewd decision...

    2005 - THE EXPANSION BOOM BEGINS

    For the first time since 1998 - when Chicago Fire and the short-lived Miami Fusion came on board - new MLS teams joined the party in the form of Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA.

    MLS expanded to 13 clubs in 2007, and it grew in size in each of the next five seasons.

    This season, MLS has 26 clubs and that number will grow to 30 by 2022.

    2007 - DAVID BRINGS BECKS APPEAL

    It could be argued no player has had a greater impact on MLS than one David Beckham.

    The Manchester United and Real Madrid great arrived in the City of Stars in 2007 thanks to the 'Designated Player Rule' - nicknamed the 'Beckham Rule', allowing clubs to sign up to three players that count outside their salary cap.

    LA Galaxy's acquisition of Beckham was seen as a huge coup. The England midfielder spent five seasons in Hollywood and his arrival helped put MLS on the map.

    2012 - AMERICA'S SECOND FAVOURITE SPORT

    As well as Beckham's arrival, the sport's popularity was also aided by USA's thrilling matches at the 2010 World Cup.

    USA beat Algeria to reach the last 16 thanks to a last-gasp Landon Donovan goal, only to lose their first knockout match to Ghana in extra time.

    Interest intensified, though, and in 2012 an ESPN poll found MLS was America's second-most popular sporting league among those aged 12-24 - behind just the NFL.

    2018 - MARTINEZ AND ATLANTA BRING THE NOISE

    The 2018 MLS Cup was watched by 73,019 fans at Atlanta United's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, shattering the previous final record of 61,316 supporters from 16 years earlier.

    Atlanta, in just their second campaign, won the trophy during a memorable campaign when Josef Martinez scored a record 31 goals in the regular season.

    With Zlatan Ibrahimovic making the Galaxy must-watch again, Wayne Rooney transforming DC United and Carlos Vela firing at Los Angeles FC, it was one of the more memorable MLS campaigns to date.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.