Advantage Madrid in Kings Cup
Perhaps true to their inconsistent form as of late, Real Madrid relied on a strong second half performance to see them take a commanding lead into the second leg of their cup tie with fellow top flight side Leganes. The first ten minutes of the tie threatened a relatively tame affair; with neither side really creating much going forward, as they seemed content to just settle into the match.
However, as the clock hit the ten minute mark, it was like an imaginary klaxon had been sounded. Both sides sparked into life, and sure enough, a flurry of opportunities fell the way of both the hosts and the visitors. First young midfielder Ceballos opted to try his luck from long range, firing a wicked drive towards the Leganes goal. Yet a smart stop from keeper Cuellar ensured that the scores stayed level.
Then, the visitors immediately hit back with a trio of chances themselves. Player of the first half, Martin Braithwaite, showed just why Leganes decided to sign him from Middlesbrough, by proving a total menace for the Madrid back line to deal with. The striker came agonisingly close to prodding home a low cross at the front post; his sliding effort saw him miss the ball by mere milimetres.
Nevertheless, he had the determination to keep battling away. Soon after he would have a better chance to endanger the hosts' goal; after breaking clear of the Madrid back line, he found himself one-on-one with Keylor Navas, who he managed to beat with a low drive. Unfortunately, the ball would drift inches wide of the far post. Madrid replied with a handful of close efforts themselves. Frenchman Karim Benzema squandered the best opening; taking too long to shoot on the edge of the box, and seeing his effort deflected over the cross bar.
So, just as the match appeared to be heading into the interval goal less, Madrid would take the lead. In the first moment of controversy in the tie, young full back Reguilon broke into the box before being bundled down by covering midfielder Gumbau. The officials did not hesitate to point to the spot. Keeping his composure; captain Sergio Ramos stepped up, as is now customary in the indefinite absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, to send the keeper the wrong way, and stroke the ball into the bottom corner of the net. The strike marked the defender's 100th career goal.
After a frantic first half, the hosts would take a slender lead into the break.
The second half was played in stark contrast to the first. After more than matching their hosts in the first half, Leganés seemed to have ran out of steam. Upon noticing this, Madrid took full advantage. Brazilian Vinicius Junior continued to endear himself to the Santiago Bernabeu crowd by being a constant thorn in the side of the visiting defenders. He went close with two strikes in quick succession; yet a combination of keeper and back line saw him denied on both occasions.
Even so, it was the energetic pressing of the young winger that would pave the way for Madrid to double their lead on the night with twenty minutes remaining. The Brazilian's presence in the final third caused the Leganes defenders to panic, and thus present the ball straight to him. Then, in a show of maturity well beyond his years, Vinicius had the wherewithal to square the ball to team mate Lucas Vazquez on the far side of the box, to smash the ball into an empty net.
The night would not end before Vinicius finally got his ultimate reward: the third and final goal for the hosts. Showing another aspect of his game; the Brazilian opted to make a dart into the box, and, after watching the flight of a Reguilon cross intently, he produced a sublime volleyed strike. The goal was no more than the youngster deserved, after he was easily the best home player on the field for the entirety of the evening.
To cap off the perfect night for Madrid, Brahim Diaz would replace the Brazilian late on to make his own debut for the club. The Spaniard saw little of the ball, but it was an encouraging sign that he was given minutes at the first time of asking, by new boss Santiago Solari. Fellow midfielder Isco went close to extending the lead, in the latter stages of the half, but by then, the result was sealed.
Overall, it was far from a comfortable win for Madrid, who were made to work for the advantage in the tie, albeit even if the second half was more easily dominated. Leganes will be disappointed that they could not match their performance from last season to at least give themselves a chance of progressing into the next round. Instead, Madrid already have a firm foot in the quarter-finals, and that is with 90 minutes left to play next week. In the end, it was the quality of Madrid that saw them earn the win.