Gareth Bale, Raphael Varane shine as Real Madrid start UCL title defence victoriously
Julen Lopetegui opened his Champions League account with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Roma. Isco, Gareth Bale and Mariano provided the goals against a visiting side that threatened in spells but were generally outplayed by the European champions.
Several Real players put in excellent performances as the home side dominated from start to finish. Madrid enjoyed 61.2 percent possession and had 25 attempts at goal in a polished performance. Eusebio Di Francesco's team could only hope to tarnish Real on the break, but even then, they encountered Keylor Navas in inspired form.
Real's defensive lapses were covered collectively but Sergio Ramos will swiftly become a liability if Lopetegui does not curb his determination to play as a striker. Marcelo also insists on patrolling the opposition half and a more incisive Roma frontline could have punished Madrid's complacency.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Di Francesco was willing to blood 19-year-old debutant Nicolo Zaniolo while Lopetegui staunchly refuses to do the same with Vinicius Junior or Alvaro Odriozola -- over €75 million of talent that apparently isn't worth a place on the bench. As Mariano proved, that may be a mistake given Real's injury history. On the night though ,selecting Navas was the right call and his substitutions all had an impact.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 8 -- Navas made a fantastic save from Cengiz Under and reacted well to deny Daniele De Rossi and Aleksandar Kolarov to ensure a clean sheet.
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- The Spain international was excellent throughout, providing cover across the backline to deny Zaniolo and Patrik Schick when Ramos and Marcelo were AWOL. Perhaps should have tested Robin Olsen with a free header but otherwise a defensive example to those not around him.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- In the book for a foul on Steven N'Zonzi but only to clear up a Toni Kroos-inspired mess. Pickpocketed in the opposition half to facilitate a Roma break and lucky to escape a red for a recovery clip on Stephan El Shaarawy.
DF Raphael Varane, 9 -- Real's most assured defender, pre-empted an Under run expertly with Marcelo in the opposition half and Navas completely exposed. His movement across the backline is vital to this Madrid side and he can foresee danger with an eye that Ramos simply does not possess, paired with the speed to act on it.
DF Marcelo, 6 -- Combined well with Isco on the left -- something for Lopetegui to mull -- and although a threat in attack, he played Kolarov in for a Roma half-chance as his positional awareness deserted him again. Made amends with a wonderful ball to put Mariano through for the final blow.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Madrid without Casemiro are a different proposition, as Athletic found when presented with Dani Ceballos. Ensured a clean sheet when cutting out an Under cross with the rest of the defence three seconds behind him and typically was Real Madrid's best in terms of tackles.
MF Toni Kroos, 6 -- A glorious ball for Bale deserved a goal but otherwise Kroos failed to warrant his undisputed set-piece hegemony: 13 corners failed to cause Roma problems, most of them going short or into the nearest defender. Occasionally, a tap on the shoulder wouldn't go amiss. Real hardly lack dead-ball specialists.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- A vital covering tackle on N'Zonzi and beautiful back-heel to launch a break displayed Modric's value to Real at both ends. His perfectly-weighted ball was an invite for Bale, who didn't have to break his stride to double Real's advantage. Off to a deserved standing ovation.
FW Isco, 8 -- As decisive as he was from the bench in San Mames at the weekend, his first touch occasionally let him down here. That being said, no Real player, Modric included, can spot an opportunity like the one-two with Benzema that earned a free kick and broke the deadlock via a well-disguised chip over the Roma wall. Completed a rare 90 minutes and will be handed many more on current form.
FW Karim Benzema, 6 -- Lacked precision around the area with several heavy touches and failed to muster a shot on target. He still played his part by pulling Roma apart for his strike partners, finding Bale with a fine pass inside that the Welshman skied.
FW Gareth Bale, 8 -- A glorious chance early on flashed just wide before Bale clattered the bar off a Fazio deflection. A trademark left-footed shot past Olsen on the gallop made it 2-0 and if this proves to be the season Real can keep him fit for 50 games, that financial outlay in 2013 is looking like a bargain given today's market and the Welshman's form.
FW Marco Asensio, 6 -- On for Benzema on the hour mark, a glorious turn almost hoodwinked Olsen in a typically flashy performance.
FW Mariano, N/R -- On for Bale to a huge roar, Mariano added plenty of weight to that number seven shirt in sweat before beating Olsen at the far post with an effort worthy of his predecessor.
MF Dani Ceballos, N/R -- A chastening half-time substitution in San Mames was partially mitigated with a decent cameo from Real's midfield enigma.