Football Features

“This was King Karim in his element” – Five things learned as Real Madrid massacre Gladbach in title-tier performance

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:17, 9 December 2020

In a one-sided night of football, Real Madrid absolutely dominated Borussia Monchengladbach.

The score was 2-0 but could have honestly been anything. Los Blancos were dominant from start to finish. What did we learn?

1. King Karim in his element

For years, everyone forgot how good Karim Benzema was. They forgot despite the Frenchman being a prominent member of a Real Madrid side that won four Champions Leagues in five years. Why did they forget? Because he wasn’t the main goalscorer.

Nevermind that Benzema was the glue that held the attack together, someone else was bagging all the goals so the Frenchman got no respect. Well now he is the main man, now he’s the lead striker getting the goals. And now people will hopefully give Karim Benzema his due.

When Real Madrid needed a saviour, it was Benzema who showed up to thump two headers into the back of the net (the first one was really quite something, an excellent example of neck control). It was Benzema who led the line superbly, linking with his team-mates and constantly menacing the German side whenever he had position. It was Benzema who cruelly struck the underside of the bar with a rasping shot when on a hat-trick. It was all just very Benzema.

This was King Karim in his element, and maybe now people will finally realise how good he is.

2. Gladbach lose their nerves

Borussia Monchengladbach came into the match at Valdebebas as group leaders and also the outright best team in the group. They had been sensational and the only reason they weren’t already qualified was because of last gasp equalisers from Inter and Real Madrid in the first two matchweeks.

In hindsight Gladbach’s inability to hold those leads was very much an early warning as to their mental fragility. For all their genius, they couldn’t see those games out. And so we shouldn’t have been surprised when they came out to play Real Madrid and they… just… didn’t? They simply didn’t turn up.

Obviously they literally did showed up, but they may as well not have. Bar one shocking miss from Alassane Plea with the score at 1-0, they just didn’t threaten Los Blancos at the back and the only defender to really stand up to deny them at the back was Yan Sommer who excelled despite his defence giving him no cover.

Gladbach were given the biggest of reprieves as Shakhtar and Inter Milan played out a 0-0 draw, so despite their humiliating performance the German side will actually play in the round of 16. However they will need to produce a better performance than they did here, because if they lose their nerves as badly as they did in Madrid then they are going home for sure.

3. Luka Modric rolls back the years

In 2018, Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or.

In 2019, Luka Modric looked absolutely finished as a player, a spent force who looked to have given all his power and ability to Croatia’s run to the World Cup final.

But in 2020, Luka Modric has rebounded. Not right away, to be sure, but slowly and surely he’s begun to play better. More like his old self. Zinedine Zidane has rested him where he could, and given him the chance to recuperate the energy he spent on that World Cup run.

It seems to have all culminated in tonight’s display against Borussia Monchengladbach where the Croatian was simply resplendent and ran the show in the middle of the park. He helped defend the meagre counters that Gladbach offered up but his excellence on the ball in the final third so often put team-mates into the position to make deadly interventions.

And of course because Modric was playing so well, Toni Kroos was able to play so well. The German got the gaudy numbers as he is wont to do, but it was Modric whose brilliant brain was the beating heart of this breathtaking Los Blancos beatdown.

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4. Regal Ramos returns robot Varane to operation

If we needed proof that Raphael Varane needs Sergio Ramos to play at his best then just look at the Frenchman’s displays without Ramos by his side of late and compare them to his solid he was today against Gladbach with Ramos at his side.

This was the robotic Raphael Varane that we’re used to seeing. The football cyborg who seems lab engineered as the perfect centre-back, always cool and calm under pressure and capable of handling whatever the opponent could throw at him.

Of course the real key to Varane’s excellence was Sergio Ramos, the titanic centre-back who sweats confidence and leadership. Whose presence radiates calm and control even though his footballing style is impossibly wild.

Like Modric and Kroos in midfield, one may be outwardly better but the stats cannot point to the intangible sense of control that the other radiates. It’s just a vibe, a sensation, but it shapes so much of Real Madrid’s fortunes.

5. Zidane and Lucas Vázquez, a story finally making sense

Zinedine Zidane absolutely loves Lucas Vázquez. This is honestly makes no sense at first glance because Vázquez is a woefully limited player. He’s a hard-worker, for sure, but surely Real Madrid need players of more skill?

Well, turns out if you have a player who will run himself into the ground every game and do exactly what you tell him to (in this case, run forward an whip crosses in) then who cares if they’re supreme skillers or not? These players are the heartbeat of big teams and squads because they plug holes and cover for fancy stars.

Zidane has been relentlessly loyal to Lucas Vázquez as right-back since Dani Carvajal’s injury, and at times it has made no sense, but tonight we saw its true worth. Against a side defending low and seemingly unwilling to step up and press, Vázquez’s forward raids from right-back render him a constant outlet and his willingness to whip crosses in as soon as he sees half a yard of space make him so dangerous.

Vázquez ended the match against Gladbach with a joint game-high 5 chances created and of course his cross led to the opening goal. He had more touches (120) than anyone else and played the joint-most passes (93) as well.

It’s strange to say that one of the two best players in Real Madrid’s best big game performance since the 2018 Champions League semi-final was Lucas Vázquez, but that’s the truth of the matter and in a way it sums the entire game up too.

Zidane’s faith in Lucas Vázquez paid off, just as his faith in himself and his other players paid off. Zinedine was sure Lucas Vázquez could do it, so Lucas Vázquez did it. Zidane was sure Real Madrid would win, so Real Madrid did win.

They’ve not been good so far, to be sure, but when the chips were down Zinedine Zidane’s faith in his Real Madrid players paid off big time. Now they’re in the knockout rounds where they always come to life. Duck and cover, because here come Real Madrid yet again!