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Madrid maintain LaLiga focus despite European distraction

Nacho and Marco Asensio scored as Real Madrid beat Cadiz 2-0 in LaLiga on Saturday.

Cadiz threatened early on when Alfonso Espino hit the post, before a first-half onslaught from Real Madrid saw home goalkeeper David Gil save from Asensio, Karim Benzema and Rodrygo, while Benzema also fired a shot against the crossbar. Rodrygo went close twice more after half-time — and Benzema hit the woodwork again — before Nacho finally opened the scoring in the 72nd minute, shooting low into the bottom corner, and Asensio added another four minutes later to secure the three points.

Rapid reaction

1. Madrid maintain focus despite European distractions

This is the kind of league game — coming in the middle of their two Champions League quarterfinal matches with Chelsea — in which Real Madrid could be forgiven for taking their eye off the ball. Instead, they were relentless, laying siege to the Cadiz goal from early in the first half and never letting up.

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The only surprise was how long it took to make the breakthrough. The first half saw Madrid amass an impressive 17 shots — seven of them on target — for a half-time xG, or expected goals, of 2.04. Cadiz backup keeper David Gil had the game of his life, and it was just as well.

When the goal didn’t come, Madrid didn’t panic either, and coach Carlo Ancelotti didn’t hurry to make any changes, backing his front three of Benzema, Rodrygo and Asensio to find a way through. In the end, the opener came from an unlikely source — the ever-reliable defender Nacho — before Asensio gave the scoreline a more respectable look.

Perhaps the spectre of being overtaken by rivals Atletico Madrid, who were just two points behind Real at kickoff here, provided an added incentive to keep their league performance levels up. Or maybe it’s just this team’s innate competitive spirit. Either way, they don’t look like taking their foot off the gas in their nine remaining league games this season.

2. Rodrygo shows it’s not all about Vinicius

It’s understandable that Vinicius Junior tends to dominate the headlines. He’s emerged as one of the most dangerous wide forwards in world football in the past two seasons and has been Real Madrid’s most consistent attacker this year. But here another Brazilian, Rodrygo, showed that he deserves his fair share of the spotlight.

Replacing the injured Vinicius on the left, Rodrygo was electric against Cadiz, celebrating his 100th LaLiga game with a virtuoso display of incisive movement and clever combination play. Only a goal was missing, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, with five shots, three of them presentable chances. In the first half he relentlessly picked up the ball and ran at the Cadiz defence, registering six dribbles.

It’s natural, that, being Madrid’s “other” Brazilian forward, Rodrygo goes a little under the radar. He’s more low-profile than Vinicius, on and off the pitch. But Ancelotti has found a place for him in the starting eleven lately — with Federico Valverde dropping back into midfield — and he adds another, classy dimension to Madrid’s attack.

3. Cadiz playing well enough to stay up

The LaLiga relegation battle is desperately tight, with five points separating seven teams from 13th down to 19th place. Cadiz are right there in the thick of it on 31 points — one fewer than Sevilla and Real Valladolid at full-time here, and one more than Getafe and Almeria — but they’ve shown enough in recent weeks to suggest they have what it takes to survive.

Before this defeat, they’d lost just one game in six, including positive results against Champions League-chasing Real Sociedad and Real Betis. Their upcoming matches now will be crucial, with six-pointers against fellow strugglers Espanyol and Valencia to come in the next two weeks.

This performance will mostly inspire confidence, even if the statistics show they were well beaten by Madrid, conceding 35 shots during the 90 minutes. It might go to the very end of the season, but Cadiz have enough talent — and a good coach in Sergio Gonzalez — to stay in Primera for another season.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Rodrygo, Real Madrid. A livewire on the left. Could easily have scored a hat trick.

BEST: David Gil, Cadiz. A jaw-dropping goalkeeping display, stopping everything that Madrid threw at him until he was beaten by Nacho.

BEST: Eder Militao, Real Madrid. The complete defender. One pinpoint second-half pass for Rodrygo showcased his ability on the ball.

WORST: Sergi Guardiola, Cadiz. Struggled to make an impact and made poor decisions when he did get the ball.

WORST: Ruben Sobrino, Cadiz. Anonymous on the wing and subbed off after 70 minutes.

WORST: Ruben Alcaraz, Cadiz. Had a hard time keeping up with Madrid’s dynamic midfield three.

Highlights and notable moments

That is an exquisitely placed finish from Nacho. You’d be forgiven for thinking the No. 6 on his shirt was printed upside down.

After the match: What the players/managers said

Ancelotti: “I focus on the way the team played, it was a good game at an important moment of the season. It wasn’t easy to prepare for this game but the attitude of the players on the pitch was spectacular.”

Thibaut Courtois: “I think we played a good game. We created a lot of chances before the first goal. David Gil played a great game. Nacho had to score, but we played well. They hit the post but after that we controlled the game, we had a lot of chances. We’re happy, we’d have liked to score more goals but I hope we’ve saved them for Tuesday!”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– Nacho’s goal was the 16th in his Real Madrid career. The only defenders in club history with more are Fernando Hierro (128), Sergio Ramos (101), Roberto Carlos (69), Sanchis (41), Marcelo (38), Ivan Helguera (33) and Raphael Varane (17).

– Nacho now has five game-winning goals in LaLiga, three of which occurred in 2021.

Up next

Cadiz: Cadiz travel to Catalonia on Friday for a LaLiga encounter at Espanyol (3 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).

Real Madrid: Los Blancos head to London for Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Chelsea.

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