Sergio Ramos bails Real Madrid out after the 'BBC' goes missing
Real Madrid made hard work of it, but are through to the Champions League quarterfinals thanks to a 3-1 win over Napoli on Tuesday night.
The hosts were hugely superior in a high-tempo first half and scythed Real open with a clever ball from Marek Hamsik for Dries Mertens to fire past Keylor Navas and take a 1-0 lead into the break.
As is so often the case, Sergio Ramos rescued his side with two strikes -- although one might have been an own goal -- in six minutes early in the second half to suck the wind out of Napoli's sails. Alvaro Morata added a third to cap the victory and keep Real's European title defence on course.
Zinedine Zidane's side recovered from Napoli's first half perfect storm, and after going 2-1 up saw out the game in the manner of a reigning European champion. Madrid are in the last eight of Europe's elite club competition for a seventh consecutive season and despite Napoli's early efforts restricted the home side to just three shots on target.
The "BBC" played a peripheral role in the victory and threatened only fleetingly. Gareth Bale faded after a promising start and Cristiano Ronaldo only came fully alive only after Ramos had decisively intervened. The front three did little to concern Napoli's back five and didn't help their side defending from the front at any stage.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Zidane failed to react to Napoli's tactic of doubling up on Casemiro to open channels to Navas' goal and it could have proved more costly than a 1-0 half-time deficit, the unattended Mertens shaving a post with a snap shot. Otherwise the Real boss couldn't have been expected to do more than field his strongest side in their most familiar formation.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- Navas couldn't do much about the goal and made two decent stops but still fails to radiate the aura of reliability he maintained last season.
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- Up against Lorenzo Insigne and Faouzi Ghoulam and with the added threat of Mertens drifting across to his flank, Carvajal suffered in the first half with little aid from his teammates. As Real grew into the game so did he and a drag-back and nutmeg on the prolific Belgian was the highlight until he almost bagged a goal worthy of Matt Le Tissier towards the end.
DF Pepe, 7 -- Pepe might have reacted quicker to deny Mertens and was caught out for pace a few times in the first half against an electric attack with their backs up but still produced a performance in line with considerable experience.
DF Sergio Ramos, 10 -- Ramos put in a true captain's display with both goals and a defensive showing including four tackles, a team-high two aerial clearances and a vital touch on nine minutes with Mertens lurking behind him and only Navas to beat. He also put Marko Rog under enough pressure to deny the substitute a free shot.
DF Marcelo, 6 -- Marcelo was solid on the back foot and bailed his side out a few times in the first half on the left but lacked his usual effervescence going forward and that played a part in the BBC's isolation.
MF Luka Modric, 6 -- The Croatian was not particularly influential in the opening 45 minutes and was generally second to everything as Napoli overwhelmed Madrid's midfield. Dispossessed three times and unable to get his foot on the ball and probe the home side's lines, Modric was overshadowed by his colleagues.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Even though Allan practically walked past him on 40 minutes and he was targeted in the first half Casemiro stemmed the waves of Napoli attacks with seven tackles, more than any player on the pitch.
MF Toni Kroos, 9 -- Kroos' assists for Ramos were his fifth and sixth for the Spaniard this season and five of those have found his captain's head. Two against Malaga (2-1) and one in the 3-2 defeat of Depor earned Real six Liga points and his first assists in Europe this season sealed the tie in Naples.
FW Gareth Bale, 6 -- Bale was the most dangerous of Real's front three in the early exchanges, losing his marker twice to carve out opportunities, but he faded badly after the break and was the first number up on the fourth official's board.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 -- Ronaldo hit the post on 28 minutes after evading Kalidou Koulibaly for his only decent chance of the opening half but became more of a threat in the second and forced Pepe Reina's hand in Morata's late goal.
FW Karim Benzema, 5 -- Benzema offered little throughout other than the ball for Ronaldo's woodwork-bothering and a half-decent crack early in the second half.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- On for Bale with a little over 20 minutes to play, Vazquez added energy to the attack and an extra man in defence.
FW Alvaro Morata, NR -- On for Benzema on 77 minutes, Morata's first touch was a decent effort at Reina's near post and his last was the coup de grace as he pounced on the rebound from Ronaldo's shot.
MF Isco, NR -- On for Modric with 10 minutes to go, Isco had little time to shine but was neat enough in his distribution.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.