After a slow start to the campaign, Real Madrid went some way to confirming their spot in the last-16 of the Champions League with a 6-0 win over Galatasaray.
Los Blancos lost their opening game to Paris Saint-Germain 3-0 and followed that up with a 2-2 home draw against Club Brugge but now sit five points clear of the Belgian side with just two games to play.
Real Madrid fans may have had some nerves ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Galatasaray at the Bernabeu after watching their team struggle in a goalless draw against Real Betis at the weekend. But Zidane obviously had faith in his players, only making two changes for the visit of Galatasaray – and it paid off.
Although Real Madrid performed well as a unit, one player stood out head and shoulders above the rest: Rodrygo Goes.
The Brazilian joined Real Madrid in the summer from Santos for €45m with the deal having been agreed a year earlier. Madrid fought off interest from the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain to secure a young star often compared to Neymar given their shared boyhood club.
But having already waited one year to official become a Real Madrid player, Rodrygo’s start at the Santiago Bernabeu was delayed again slightly due to a poorly-timed hamstring injury at the start of the 2019/20 campaign.
The 18-year-old was handed his first competitive appearance for Real Madrid in their 2-0 win over Osasuna on September 25, replacing compatriot Vinicius Jr. One minute later, Rodrygo had opened his account, scoring the fastest debut goal for Real Madrid since Brazilian legend Ronaldo in 2002.
This gave Real Madrid fans a small glimpse of what they could expect from Rodgryo and, after another substitute appearance in La Liga, the teenager was handed his first start for the club – in the 1-0 Champions League win over Galatasaray last month.
The Brazilian has clearly impressed Zidane, having started the following two league games, scoring once more in a 5-0 win over Leganes.
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His place in the starting XI has seen another Brazilian teenager drop out, with Vinicius not featuring at all in the Leganes win and only managing a substitute appearance against Betis at the weekend.
According to another Brazilian legend, Rivaldo, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has been right in choosing Rodrygo over Vinicus, for the 18-year-old’s killer instinct.
“Rodrygo has the same individual qualities as Vinicius but the thing that marks the difference between them is when it comes to finishing; in that aspect Rodrygo is much stronger,” he said recently.
“When you have two players of the same quality but one scores more frequently than the other, you have to play the better goalscorer. At the end of the day that’s the bottom line in football.
“Rodrygo has more killer instinct than Vinicius.”
And he took just four minutes to show that killer instinct on Wednesday night, starting against Galatasaray with Vinicius not even in the squad.
With Real Madrid on the attack from the outset, the ball found its way to Marcelo on the left-hand side. Marcelo’s cross into the box evaded Karim Benzema but fell to Rodrygo, who was unmarked. The teenager showed composure to bring the ball down with his chest, cutting onto his left foot before firing a low effort into the bottom left corner.
His first Champions League goal, Rodrygo is the youngest ever Brazilian to score in the competition’s history, doing so at the age of 18 years and 301 days. The previous record was held by Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos, who scored against Olympiacos in September 2013, aged 19 years and 126 days.
Rodrygo’s second came just three minutes later and showed another side to his game, as the Brazilian held his run back ever so slightly to get onto the end of Marcelo’s cross into the box, scoring with his head this time.
Marcelo knows Rodrygo is a special talent. 💫 pic.twitter.com/W0nSdw4gWY
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 6, 2019
Two goals, two records, as Rodrygo scored the earliest brace in Champions League history, officially timed at six minutes and 14 seconds. Less than 10 minutes later, the teenager was denied the chance to break yet another record.
As Real Madrid continued on the attack, Los Blancos were awarded a penalty with Galatasaray penalised for handball just inside the area – following a consultation with VAR.
While the whole world would have been wishing for Rodrygo to take it, claiming a record-breaking fastest ever Champions League hat-trick at just 18, up stepped everyone’s favourite footballing villain Sergio Ramos to spoil the dreams.
Naturally, the Spaniard scored with the ultimate coolness, beating Fernando Muslera with a Panenka and celebrating with a weird horse trot – but it was a missed opportunity for Rodrygo.
Zidane praises Rodrygo for ‘perfect’ hat-trick
Rodrygo was unfazed by this and continued to cause Galatasaray problems, turning provider just before half-time with an assist that was entirely of his own doing. The Brazilian showed quick thinking to intercept a loose ball close to the Galatasaray area before passing across the goal for Benzema to tap in.
After Benzema got his second, the pair combined again in second-half injury time, with Rodrygo finally getting the hat-trick his performance deserved.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 6, 2019
It was neat play between the duo, with Rodrygo getting the better of the Galatasaray defence and Muslera to toe-poke home with his right foot, becoming the second-youngest ever hat-trick scorer in Champions League history. The only man above him? Real Madrid legend Raul, who achieved the feat 188 days younger – but that obviously will not take away from the Brazilian’s excellent performance and perfect hat-trick.
If Rodrygo continues to perform like this, combined with Eden Hazard’s presence in the team, Vinicius may find his playing time at Real Madrid very restricted.