Sports

Real Madrid’s Varane earns 9/10 after inspiring comeback win


Raphael Varane scored twice as Real Madrid came back from a goal down to beat bottom-of-the-table Huesca 2-1 in La Liga on Saturday.

A quiet first half saw Vinicius Junior shoot wide after being played in by Toni Kroos before being flagged offside, and Karim Benzema have a shot saved. The game burst into life after the interval, as Huesca’s Mikel Rico hit the bar and then Javi Galan opened the scoring with a spectacular strike from just inside the box.

The hosts hit the woodwork again through Rafa Mir before Real Madrid equalised. Benzema’s free kick rebounded off the bar, and Varane rose tallest to make it 1-1. Thibaut Courtois denied Mir, and Benzema had three good opportunities to score, before Varane tapped in Casemiro’s far-post header to take all three points.

Positives

This was a match in which only a win would do under any circumstances and especially given the gap between Real Madrid and league leaders Atletico at the top of the table, coupled with disappointments in the Supercopa and Copa del Rey last month. They got that victory, and morale will be buoyed by the manner in which it was achieved, fighting back from a goal down away from home.

With captain Sergio Ramos one of a lengthy list of absentees, centre-back partner Varane stepped up with his two goals, but it was another on-field leader, Casemiro, who embodied the win here with his display and fighting spirit. Madrid will need more of that if they are to salvage what’s left of the season.

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Negatives

A chaotic start to the second half saw Huesca score and hit the bar twice in four minutes, with Madrid looking shambolic at the back. The team was outplayed at times by a gifted home side — but one that’s managed just two wins all season.

This was a fixture that showed the worrying state of Madrid’s squad, too, with Marcelo and Mariano Diaz the only senior outfield options on the bench. Zinedine Zidane will be desperate to get some reinforcements back soon, even if the likes of Ramos and Eden Hazard will be absent for a while yet.

Manager rating out of 10

8 — Zidane was under enormous pressure here, as evidenced by his news conference meltdown a day earlier. He and the team responded with a much-needed win in difficult circumstances.

The team essentially picked itself, with only 14 senior players available and 17 in the squad. While the in-game management in the Levante defeat last weekend had left observers scratching their heads, here Zidane got the changes right, switching to three at the back, and playing a front two.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — A customary, spectacular stop from Mir’s header in the second half was a crucial turning point in the match.

DF Alvaro Odriozola, 5 — Looked nervous and uncomfortable from the start. Taken off with an injury with 25 minutes left.

DF Raphael Varane, 9 — Won the game with his brace, his first goals of the season and first career double in La Liga play. There were also two important defensive interventions early on when Madrid were under pressure. A complete performance.

DF Nacho, 6 — Back after recovering from COVID-19 and looked a little rusty, especially in the first half.

DF Ferland Mendy, 6 — Struggled at times and was beaten in the air more than once by the powerful Mir.

MF Casemiro, 8 — His header, rising above the Huesca defence, made Madrid’s winner. Casemiro’s role as a goal-threat, particularly in the air, is every bit as important as his defensive work.

MF Toni Kroos, 7 — A marvellous through ball (how often do we say that about Kroos?) to play in Vinicius in the first half. That was followed by a yellow card that means he’ll be suspended for the Getafe game on Tuesday.

MF Luka Modric, 7 — Not at his influential best, but involved in some lovely, quick passing moves in the second half especially.

FW Vinicius Junior, 6 — His first league start since Dec/ 15, having been frozen out by Zidane lately. Hasn’t scored since October. Chipped a great first-half chance wide, with the offside flag saving his blushes.

FW Marco Asensio, 7 — An electric second-half run, driving at the Huesca defence, was one of the game’s highlights. A deft header set up Benzema for his best chance of the match.

FW Karim Benzema, 8 — Madrid’s biggest, most consistent goal threat. Had a first-half shot saved and hit the bar with a well-struck free kick for Varane’s first goal. Denied three times after that, including one point-blank stop from Fernandez.

Substitutes

DF Marcelo, 6 — Replaced Odriozola and immediately went close to scoring, shooting just wide.

FW Mariano Diaz, NR — Partnered Benzema in attack for the last 10 minutes.

FW Marvin Park, NR — The youngster’s first minutes since September, playing as an attacking wing-back.



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