In an exciting night of football, Real Madrid beat Galatasaray 0-1 at the Turk Telekom Stadium.
The home side started ferociously and were unlucky not to take the lead but Los Blancos eventually took control and picked up a huge victory. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos looked seriously below par in 2018/19. A player whose already limited movement and defensive contribution was now an issue as his passing wasn’t on point. Most of the problem wasn’t that Kroos had declined, but that the midfield structure that allowed him to thrive, namely Luka Modric running the show and Casemiro covering for him, was considerably weaker. His place in the Madrid side now presented as many problems as solutions, at least it did.
This season, the introduction of Fede Valverde has given Kroos new life, because Valverde is a defensive powerhouse in the same way that Casemiro used to be. This frees Kroos up to drive forward and play as the most advanced midfielder, which is his ideal role in a midfield three. Galatasaray suffered the new edges on Kroos’ game as he repeatedly pushed into the final third and made things happen, notably scoring the only goal of the game with a delightful late run to catch Eden Hazard’s overrun cutback and slap it home (via a deflection). Toni Kroos is back in the saddle as one of Europe’s most dangerous midfielders.
That goal marked his 100th Champions League appearance, making him just the fifth German to reach that milestone. Six months ago, it looked like if Kroos would get to a century of appearances, he would do so limping and hobbling as his power and influence diminished – but now he strides confidently into his second century of appearances as a match-winning goalscorer.
Loser: Florin Andone
It can’t be easy being back-up to Radamel Falcao. For starters, whenever you play, the team instantly loses oodles of coolness. That’s hard enough to deal with but there’s also the worry that you just don’t have the same level of goalscoring killer instinct.
Florin Andone came into tonight’s game against Real Madrid with at least one of those fears wiped out, as he had scored twice in Galatasaray’s last match in the Turkish league. And given Real Madrid have been genuinely shambolic at the back, the chance for the Romanian striker to really make a name for himself was high.
So, of course, he had seven shots, more than anyone else in the match, and didn’t manage to score.
Winner: Thibaut Courtois
Thibaut Courtois was crowned “The Best” shortly after joining Real Madrid, mostly for his excellent displays at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Since then, however, he has been more like “The Worst”. Courtois has been genuinely poor in the Spanish capital but he began tonight’s match, by all accounts a must-win match away at a hostile ground, in supreme form.
It’s easy to forget because the game ended as such a lopsided affair where Madrid had enough shots to shame the NRA, but for a good 20 minutes things were very difficult for Los Blancos and the only reason they didn’t collapse was not Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos (who grew into the game) but Courtois flinging himself around in goal, using every inch of his considerable height, to palm away Galatasaray shots. It was an epic display from the Belgian and a clean sheet well earned.
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Loser: Club Brugge
Brugge’s point at the Santiago Bernabeu would have filled them with confidence that qualification was genuinely possible, but tonight they suffered two considerable blows. First, they lost at home against PSG, which, alright whatever – but Real Madrid winning in Galatasaray was the biggest blow.
Brugge probably figured that one point was a best-case scenario from their double header in Paris but they must have hoped or maybe even expected that Galatasaray would play out a couple of tepid draws, or at least they’d each win at home so that, going into the final two matchdays, Brugge would still have a chance. But with Madrid winning in Turkey, Brugge are not only knocked down to third but they are likely to find themselves more than one game away as Los Blancos will probably win at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Winner: The Old Guard
Real Madrid are an old team. The vast majority of their squad has been at the club for at least half a decade, some more than a decade. They’ve won four Champions Leagues in recent history, including three in a row. They’re legends of the game and no one can deny them that, but that status has led to a certain level of comfort that has sapped the strength of Los Blancos.
This led to calls for new blood, and true enough new blood was brought in. But besides Valverde, none of it has had much of an impact. At the weekend, a lot of the new blood was on show and Los Blancos lost 1-0 at Mallorca. Tonight, all the old guard were back in the saddle and Los Blancos picked up a huge 0-1 win away to a hostile rival. They played with a confidence and composure that only veterans can, and they created enough chances to put the match to bed well before the final whistle.
Loser: Fatih Terim
Fatih Terim is known as the Emperor. A lofty title but then the Turk is a coach who has delivered the nation’s only European trophy at club level when he guided Galatasaray to the 2000 Uefa Cup. That was nearly 20 years ago, though, and although Terim’s imposing presence hasn’t dulled, his ability to truly get his players to excel above their level has.
He sent Galatasaray out in an interesting 3-5-2 shape, betting that a three-man back-line would help to contain Madrid’s forward raids, wing-backs would do well to cancel out the attacking impact of Madrid’s full-backs, and that Steven N’Zonzi and Jean-Michael Seri would be able to boss the midfield. All of that happened exactly as Terim would have wanted, so tactically he was spot-on, but when Gala had chances, or the chance to create chances, the players lost their nerve or made bad decisions.
Terim is still an imperious figure but his footsoldiers can’t seem to get it done anymore.