Youngsters Vinicius Junior, Federico Valverde shine as Real Madrid bounce back in Copa del Rey
A 3-0 Copa del Rey last-16 first leg victory over Leganes at the Bernabeu sees Real Madrid move close to the quarterfinals, and should -- for now -- ease some of the speculation around coach Santi Solari's long-term future.
Madrid played pretty well once they went ahead thanks to Sergio Ramos' penalty just before the break.
With confidence flowing in the second half, Vinicius Junior's superb 12-yard volley was the cherry on top, and another sign that the young Brazilian is getting very comfortable at senior level.
Fellow youngsters Alvaro Odriozola and Federico Valverde also impressed again, and must be putting pressure on their underperforming senior counterparts in the squad.
Leganes debutant Martin Braithwaite could easily have had a Hat trick as Madrid's defence rocked early on.
The 44,231 that witnessed this one was the smallest crowd of the season at the Bernabeu.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Under-fire Solari declined to use the game for any tactical variations -- sticking to the 4-3-3 shape which Leganes were able to exploit at times in the first half. Once ahead, Madrid took control and were impressively hungry enough to provoke the error which lead to the tie-killing second goal. The Argentine should also take credit for how Vinicius is quickly emerging as a bone fide potential superstar.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- There was extra focus on his performance due to first-choice Thibaut Courtois' new pelvic muscle injury, and he made one flying save from a powerful header by Denmark international Braithwaite to keep it at 0-0 early on.
DF Alvaro Odriozola, 7 -- As usual did better work in attack than defence. One driving run into the Leganes penalty box led to loud Bernabeu complaints about VAR bias, before a second similar tumble persuaded referee Jesus Gil Manzano to point to the spot just before half-time.
DF Nacho, 6 -- Looked quite rusty in his first game since early November, not quick enough to cover the space left when Odriozola raided forward. Had a let-off when Braithwaite was allowed to run straight through on his own only to pull his shot just wide.
DF Sergio Ramos, 7 -- Looked keen to take charge from the off, and there was never any doubt who was going to take the penalty. The club captain calmly converted for his 100th professional career goal.
DF Sergio Reguilon, 7 -- With first-choice Marcelo so out of form, Reguilon got forward well from left-back, and was not really tested in defence.
MF Federico Valverde, 7 -- The youngster deputising for Luka Modric had a quiet first half but grew in confidence after his team took the lead, while showing a promising tendency to have a go from long distance.
MF Casemiro, 6 -- More mistakes such as needless fouls in dangerous Area. Still short of match-fitness -- or an invisibility cloak to avoid The referee's detection - after last year's injury.
MF Dani Ceballos, 6 -- Expected to get a run in the team now with Toni Kroos injured, but was not influential enough in possession, and may now be behind Valverde in the pecking order.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- Solari's favourite again covered every blade of grass, and was rewarded with a handy open goal after Benzema and Vinicius had done the difficult work.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 -- Only club captain Ramos has played more minutes this season for Madrid, and Benzema again linked cleverly with those behind him. Cleverly anticipated an under-hit back-pass to set up the tie-clinching second goal.
FW Vinicius Junior, 8 -- Well marshalled by Leganes' five-man defence in the first half, but came into his own once Madrid took the lead. Showed maturity to pass up a shot and instead give teammate Lucas an easy finish for the second goal, and his volleyed third was his best moment in Europe so far.
MF Isco, 7 -- Won't have been happy to be left on the Bench once again,. Was thrown on for the last 20 minutes and was involved in the build-up to third goal, before twice going himself in a bid to find the net late.
MF Brahim Diaz, N/R -- This week's new signing from Manchester City immediately got some playing time and looked happy to be out there.
FW Cristo Gonzalez, N/R -- The youth team striker got late run to give Benzema a rest with the game already won.