Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema star as Real Madrid take edge into Copa del Rey second leg
Thursday evening's entertaining Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg at the Bernabeu swung back and forth, but Real Madrid came on strong late for a 4-2 win which makes them favourites to progress after next Thursday's second leg at Girona.
Madrid are close to the Copa del Rey semifinals for the first time since they won the competition back in 2014, with the way they reacted to both Girona goals particularly impressive. The burgeoning relationship between Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior looks particularly exciting now. Getting Marcos Llorente and especially Toni Kroos back from injury were a big plus.
Madrid really should have won this game with less drama, missing plenty of chances at one end while both Girona goals were totally avoidable. Marcelo's assist for Ramos' winner did not erase his defensive dodginess on the Catalans' opening goal.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Santiago Solari kept his rotations to a minimum with Atletico Madrid's exit to Girona in the last round, and Barcelona's 2-0 first-leg loss to Sevilla opening up the competition for Madrid. The Argentine boss will have been happy with his team's positivity and energy throughout, but he has to find a solution to their defensive issues.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Left completely unprotected for Girona's early close-range goal from Anthony "Choco" Lozano, and given no chance by Alex Granell's confident penalty for 2-2. Otherwise dealt competently with the little he had to do.
DF Alvaro Odriozola, 8 -- Provided an excellent assist for Lucas Vazquez's early equaliser as he kept his head and picked out the right cross after being sent clear down the wing. That was his fourth assist in the Copa this season, while being the only Madrid player to get all 450 minutes so far.
DF Nacho, 6 -- Booked for a clumsy challenge on Girona midfielder Borja Garcia in the first half and is still not looking quite back to full sharpness following a long injury layoff.
DF Sergio Ramos, 8 -- A cheeky Panenka finish from the penalty spot to make it 2-1 before half-time means Ramos has scored all eight attempts from the spot since he took over duties when Cristiano Ronaldo left last summer. Also played captain's role with a back post header soon after Girona's equaliser.
DF Marcelo, 6 -- Unable to get back quickly enough as Lozano was unmarked at the back post to steer in Girona's opener after just seven minutes. Made partial amends with an accurate clipped cross onto Ramos' head for 3-2, but still clearly well below his best form physically and unlikely to start Sunday's La Liga game at Espanyol.
MF Luka Modric, 7 -- In regular dialogue with referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco as both he and the Bernabeu felt the officials were giving them nothing. Had a case when felled in the box by on loan from Manchester City midfielder Douglas Luiz just before his team's penalty Was actually awarded.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Another looking to get back to his best after fitness issues, he kept Girona's counter-attacking to a minimum, with one second-half challenge on Luiz particularly impressive.
MF Dani Ceballos, 7 -- Covered the ground well in box-to-box role, and was neat and tidy in possession as Madrid easily won the midfield battle.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 7 -- The Solari favourite again repaid his coach's faith With a tidy finish for Madrid's first goal. As usual, worked hard and selflessly covering back in defence.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Possibly in the best form of his career at the moment, despite playing with a broken finger. Conducted the attack superbly when dropping deep, with a superb pass to free Odriozola to start the move which led to Madrid's first goal. Deservedly got on the scoresheet himself late on for to make it 4-2, converting Vinicius' cross from a tight angle.
FW Vinicius Jr, 8 -- The Brazilian teenager is already a firm Bernabeu favourite, with the jinking run which drew the penalty just one of many times he completely outfoxed his markers. Also involved in both Madrid's third and fourth goals, while he was unlucky when his own 20-yard curler just sailed over. Welsh Galactico Gareth Bale will not walk straight back into the XI when he regains fitness in the coming weeks.
MF Marcos Llorente, 6 -- Young holding midfielder replaced Casemiro on the hour mark, and almost immediately gave away a penalty with a daft handball when defending a corner.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Kroos also returned from his injury absence, with an understated performance to keep the ball moving towards Girona's goal when the game was in the mix.
MF Isco, 7 -- Sent on immediately after the game went 2-2, and was involved in the fourth with a direct run and neat ball wide to Vinicius.