Gareth Bale a perfect 10 as Real Madrid romp over Deportivo
Expectation turned to ovation on Zinedine Zidane's managerial debut at the Bernabeu. The Frenchman received a resounding cheer when he emerged from the tunnel and delivered on the promise of a new dawn with a clean sheet and five goals against a side that had failed to score only three times this season and had been beaten only once on their travels.
Deportivo are a quick counterattacking side who pour players forward when in possession but Depor manager Victor Sanchez abandoned the profitable 4-4-2 that he has employed regularly this season, which left Lucas Perez -- who had bagged 12 in the league before Saturday's match -- somewhat isolated.
Depor started brightly but conceded too early to cause any uncertainty in the home side's attacking approach. Real swiftly clicked into gear after Karim Benzema opened the scoring and played with verve throughout, but the visitors didn't let their shoulders drop even after going 2-0 down, racking up 18 shots on goals to Real's 22.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- Navas pulled off a great save from Perez with 10 minutes played and had a busy evening with five stops in total. The Real keeper was rarely really tested though, with Depor reduced for the most part to shooting from distance.
DF Dani Carvajal, 8 -- Back in the side after recovering from a thigh problem, Carvajal lost Perez and had Navas to thank for sparing his blushes, but he stood up a fine cross for Bale's goal and was a constant attacking threat. The right-back looked sharp in defence as well after almost six weeks out and at the end of the match put in a bursting run across the back line to deny Perez a shot on goal.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- Ramos was substituted at half-time but in his 45 minutes one action stood out: a perfectly timed back-pedalling run to clear with his head when Perez was lurking ominously, and unmarked, in the area.
DF Pepe, 7 -- With a different defensive partner for each half, Pepe was required to take the initiative and did so with nine recoveries and three tackles, as well as a few key headed clearances. Not many defences have kept Depor quiet this season and Pepe was instrumental in doing so.
DF Marcelo, 6 -- Marcelo was eager to get forward at every opportunity, one that he was afforded by Perez's isolation up top. However, he still has a tendency to trot back when possession is lost, often by Marcelo himself, and it was no surprise to see Juanfran and Federico Cartabia targeting the Brazilian's side of the back four.
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MF Toni Kroos 8 -- Four tackles, one of which was a last-ditch lunge to deny Luis Alberto, six recoveries, a 96 percent pass completion rate and accurate corners are about all you could ask from Kroos on any given match day, and that's what Real got in a performance reminiscent of the German's form last season. Kroos added an assist for good measure.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- A typical run toward his own goal to win the ball back was Modric's display in microcosm. Modric did lose the ball a number of times but only because he was at the heart of every attacking and defensive action.
MF Isco, 6 -- Preferred to James Rodriguez, the midfielder showed some touches of the undeniable class he possesses, class of which Zidane is a firm admirer. There wasn't a lot of end product though and defensively he was overshadowed by the work rate of those around him.
FW Gareth Bale, 10 -- Bale bagged a hat-trick, with his first goal coming when he adjusted his shape expertly in mid-air to head home. The Welshman's confidence is oozing and his second came from a perfectly timed run and neatly executed finish at Deportivo goalkeeper German Lux's near post with his instep. Bale made it look easy. It wasn't. He showed great spatial awareness for his third and put in a shift on the back foot as well.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Benzema scored the opener with a deft flick from Ramos' shot and reacted quickest with the final kick of the game to blast his second in with supreme confidence. It should be no surprise that Benzema has reacted with delight to the appointment of his friend and mentor and it showed in his performance Saturday.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 -- Ronaldo shot, and shot, and shot ... 10 in all, but only three on target. His anger when his first half header came back off the post was considerable: The Portuguese has 14 for the season, but he is used to scoring in every game. He did though provide two assists among his personal crusade for the back of the net.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- Replaced Ramos at half-time. A weak clearance allowed Depor a shooting chance but Varane was under everything the visitors pinged into the Real area and his extra pace was useful in covering the lines as Depor came forward.
MF James Rodriguez, 6 -- Came on for Isco in the 66th minute. James played a lovely dinked ball for Ronaldo after coming on and was energetic in his defensive duties, if a little loose in possession.
FW Jese, NR -- Substituted on for Bale in the 74th minute. Jese displayed great poise to hold off two Depor defenders and then nutmeg Alejandro Arribas on the touchline, but he didn't have time for a lot else.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.