Perhaps still under the emotions of Madrid's epic turnaround in their mid-week match against Manchester United, the Merengue obtained a hard-earned three points against Celta on Sunday evening.
With only four of the starting XI from the match at Old Trafford present, it was understandable that the team wouldn't click to the same levels as on Wednesday. Despite a couple of weak individual performances, particularly in defense, Madrid came away with all three points and a 2-1 victory.
Here are the ratings for Los Blancos, player by player.
Crucial in the opening exchanges, Lopez was the only reason Madrid did not fall behind inside the first 20 minutes. His first intervention in the game was a routine save at his nearby post in the sixth minute. It was quickly followed by two more saves in the ninth and 10th minutes, with the latter a superb demonstration of skill and reflexes after a deflected shot from Alex Lopez.
That was to be his best save of the game, although he faced 11 shots on target in total from Celta’s players. He got away with the two only real mistakes. The first came when he released the ball after what seemed like a relatively routine shot in the 67th . The second was a poor attempt at a clearance when Park headed onto the bar in the 89th minute.
He had no chance on Iago Aspas’ goal.
Marcelo, despite not having a good game, was perhaps the best element of a poor defensive display from Real Madrid. He provided an extra option in attack on the left side of the pitch and had a couple of great chances to score in the second half. However, he also left Madrid’s flank exposed on several occasions and left Celta too much space to cross.
The weakest link of a weak defense, Albiol’s first intervention, almost leading to a Celta goal in the first few seconds of the game, was indicative of things to come. Albiol showed a lack of confidence following his mistake, constantly clearing the ball rather than looking for the counterattacking options that are this Madrid’s trademark.
On several occasions, he allowed too much space for the Celta players to create shooting chances, as was the case with the phase of play that led to Iago Aspas’ goal.
Pepe also had a rather poor game at the heart of Madrid’s defense. Slightly more solid than Albiol defensively, he was lucky his slack passing did not cost Real Madrid on more than one occasion. He was also caught several times out of position and conceded a dangerous foul that Aspas came close to converting.
Michael Essien was once again called to play the role of makeshift right-back and acquitted himself decently. Not providing the same level of play as Fabio Coentrao or Sergio Ramos, he still was pretty solid in defense and even ventured forward to deliver crosses in the second half.
He was also in the right place at the right time in the closing stages, in the path of a shot from Demidov that could have easily cost Madrid two points.
One of the heroes of Real Madrid’s mid-week exploits at Old Trafford, Modric once again proved his class in the game against Celta. Despite being deployed in an unusual position, alongside Sami Khedira in front of the Madrid defense, he put in a solid performance. His full commitment was highly visible throughout the match, as he acquitted himself well of his defensive duties while still finding time to attack.
In the first half, he was the outstanding player for Madrid, playing in a creative role and smoothening the connection between attack and defense.
Sami Khedira formed an unusual partnership with Luka Modric in front of the Madrid’s back four during the first half. Although he didn’t deliver to the same levels as his Croatian companion, he still had a decent 45 minutes before being substituted by Xabi Alonso at half-time.
The superlatives have already all been used to describe Cristiano Ronaldo’s performances of late; that he could be this decisive despite a below-average performance is an indication of why. Remaining anonymous for large parts of the game, his two goals were the difference between Madrid and Celta.
Ronaldo, perhaps still shaken from the emotional game at Old Trafford in mid-week, seemed a shadow of himself in the opening exchanges, missing two opportunities to score. Perhaps the most worrying chance he missed was when he opted for a poor pass to his center forward rather than taking a shot himself from an unbeatable position. However, you never have to worry long with Cristiano Ronaldo, and he grew into the game, heading the ball onto the crossbar on one occasion and later scoring the opening goal in typical poacher fashion.
There were no doubts visible when he stepped up to fire in the penalty that gave Madrid the three points.
The German had a rather poor game and had little impact throughout. Despite some occasional flashes of his quality made visible by some defense-splitting passes, his decision-making was unusually off and his participation in the Madrid attack largely absent. He took the corner that led to Madrid’s first goal.
Callejon did not have a great game either, and this was instantly exposed with the impact Kaka had when he substituted him. Caught offside a number of times, Callejon also wasted a one-on-one with Javi Varas.
His deflected shot led to Cristiano Ronaldo’s first goal, but Callejon will feel disappointed with his performance and feel the heat of Kaka threatening his spot.
The French striker had a mixed game—at first clumsy and constantly caught offside, he finished the first half strongly and was one of the principal sources of danger to Varas’ goal.
The exchange of position on a few occasions with Cristiano Ronaldo when he shifted to the left channel of Madrid’s attack were the moments where he shone the most. From that position, he created Madrid’s best chance of the first half, which Ronaldo headed onto the crossbar.
He will be disappointed he didn’t capitalize on any of the few clear chances that fell to him—in particular, the one to open the scoring in the 23rd minute.
Alonso took over from Khedira at the start of the second half and played a similar role to the German alongside Modric. Perhaps not as sharp as usual in his defensive duties, he still proved his class when pinging balls across the pitch in his ever-accurate fashion.
Much like his French counterpart, Higuain will have felt a sense of regret at the end of the game. Getting into good positions and having an overall positive impact on the game, he failed to convert in the 25 minutes he was on.
He will particularly regret his very poor miss from just a few yards out in the 83rd minute, after an impeccable assist by Mesut Ozil.
Kaka was exactly what Madrid needed when they needed it. Coming on with just under half an hour to go and the scores level, he pretty much won the match for Madrid.
His injection of pace woke up the Madrid attack and got the entire team working at a higher rate. Just five minutes after coming on, he won the clear penalty that Ronaldo converted, tilting the game Madrid’s way.
After that crucial intervention, Kaka continued to provide good pace and attacking flair, coming close to scoring himself in the 77th minute just two minutes after almost providing a hat-trick goal for Ronaldo.