Real Madrid overcame a spirited Girona fightback to take a two-goal lead in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter final clash.
After witnessing Catalan rivals Barcelona come up short at Sevilla 24 hours prior, it looked as if Santiago Solari’s side would suffer a similar fate when Anthony Lozano poked in unmarked beyond Thibaut Courtois after seven minutes.
Los Blancos responded within 10 minutes through Lucas Vasquez, who finished from close range after a darting run from the impressive Alvaro Odriozola. 19-year-old Vinicius Junior was next to threaten Gorka Iraizoz’ goal but curled over, before the game’s first talking point.
Moments after Luka Modric’s penalty appeals were waved away, goal-scorer Lozano turned from hero to villain when he was judged to have brought down the influential Junior.
Sergio Ramos duly obliged in style with a panenka over the experienced shot-stopper to swing the tie in Madrid’s favour. They could have further extended their advantage through Karim Benzema, who saw his effort strike the outside of the woodwork before the interval.
But after spurning several chances, Girona were handed a lifeline on the hour mark, when substitute Marcos Llorente was punished for a blatant handball. Alex Granell converted to level the tie, before Madrid showed their typical grit in a gutsy display.
In a three-minute spell, two quickfire goals through Ramos and Benzema staved off any potential comeback as Real head to Girona with a healthy advantage in a week’s time.
Key Talking Point
With their La Liga title hopes fading, Los Blancos looked determine to flourish in a competition they had won 19 times across their illustrious history.
Despite being pegged back in the second half, their character and desire to see out the game will have pleased Solari, who saw his side register a fourth win in their last five games in all competitions. Led by captain Ramos, Madrid may just have turned a corner in their troublesome campaign.
Starting XI: Courtois (6), Odriozola (8), Ramos (7), Nacho (7), Marcelo (6), Ceballos (6), Casemiro (7), Modric (7), Vazquez (7), Junior (9*), Benzema (8).
Substitutes: Llorente (5), Kroos (6), Isco (N/A.
Playing a part in three of his side’s four goals on the night, Brazilian winger Junior was instrumental to their attacking intents throughout.
@tomcliffordcfc Vinicius Junior better stay in this form if Real Madrid really wants to fully replace Ronaldo’s production
— Kendell Littlejohn (@KenALittlejohn) 24 January 2019
Posing speed, skill and acceleration on the ball, his performance will give Solari a selection headache in forthcoming weeks, amid several injuries to his attacking compatriots.
Conceding a penalty within five minutes of his introduction, Llorente couldn’t have envisaged a worse return to action from injury.
His needless intervention caused nervousness in the Madrid ranks for a time, but was ultimately reprieved.
Starting XI: Iraizoz (6), Ramalho (6), Alcala (6), Juanpe (5), Muniesa (6), Garcia (6), Luiz (5), Garcia (6), Granel (6), Lozano (7), Doumbia (7).
Substitutes: Espinosa, Ho Paik, Portu.
Before the second leg commences next Thursday, Madrid turn their attentions back to La Liga when they travel to Espanyol on Sunday, looking to close the gap at the summit.
Meanwhile, Girona will host league leaders Barcelona on Thursday looking for a first win in 10 outings.