Though there remains a second leg to go, Real Madrid put themselves in a dominant position in their quarterfinal Champions League clash with Galatasaray on Wednesday.
Behind yet another brilliant performance from Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid defeated Galatasaray 3-0 in their first-leg matchup before a raucous crowd at the Bernabeu. The victory gives Real Madrid a key advantage heading into their second leg at Turk Telekom Arena on April 9.
As he's wont to do, Ronaldo got the goal-scoring underway early for Madrid. His goal in the ninth minute gave his side a 1-0 lead that they would hold the entire match. Forward Karim Benzema matched his superstar teammate with a goal in the 29th minute to complete a commanding first-half performance—Gonzalo Higuain's boot in the 72nd minute finalized the score.
The name of the game for Madrid throughout the match was relentless aggression inside Galatasaray's zone—and that started almost from the opening kick. Ronaldo and Benzema played mostly a two-man game early on, peppering the Galatasaray goal with relentless pressure.
It didn't take long for Ronaldo to get things going.
Taking a nice pass from Mesut Ozil, Ronaldo fired a shot past Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera in the ninth minute to put Real Madrid ahead 1-0. That goal marked the fourth straight Champions League fixture in which Ronaldo has scored, extending a hot streak that has the Spanish club on the precipice of a semifinal berth.
Benzema wasn't far behind Ronaldo in requiting his early-match aggression. After a beautiful display of foolery on the part of Michael Essien, Benzema was right at the edge of the goal to knock through a quick-strike goal to give his side a 2-0 lead heading into the halftime break.
It was the continuous giving of chances by Galatasaray and the completing them by Madrid that helped them pull ahead early. The second 45 minutes did not change all that much, and now Galatasaray's back is against the wall.
Again taking the role of aggressor, Real Madrid nearly put the match away in the 61st minute. Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria almost connected for a goal that would have put the Spanish side ahead 3-0, but Di Maria's shot was saved by Muslera.
The Galatasaray keeper wasn't so lucky a few minutes later when Higuain knocked a header through the back of the net on an Alonso free kick.
From start to finish, it was a story of pure domination. Real Madrid looked like a potential Champions League victor while Galatasaray was overmatched and outperformed in every single aspect of the match. Galatasaray's back is now firmly planted against the wall, their Champions League life being held together only by the faintest hopes.
Will they be able to pull off a miracle? Maybe. But Galatasaray will need to improve mightily before April 9 to get it done.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid: A
The world's best (or second-best, depending on who you're asking) player definitely looked ready to stake his claim on Wednesday. Ronaldo was his trademark aggressive self from the jump, taking an off-target shot early on from deep outside the box and never really stopping.
His goal in the ninth minute gave Real Madrid their early reward for Ronaldo's excellence and he continued peppering Galatasaray throughout the match. Though many of his shots ultimately got blocked, Ronaldo's early goal wound up spurring Real Madrid's win in the first leg.
The lesson, as always: Pay the man, Madrid.
Karim Benzema, Real Madrid: A
Speaking of aggressive play, Benzema looked to be doing his best Ronaldo impression early in the match. He knocked a header just wide of the goal in the match's second minute, giving Madrid a great start momentum-wise.
The aggression only continued for Benzema throughout the match, as he drew fouls and committed a few himself, looking like a man possessed out on the pitch. Benzema's goal in the 29th minute will be what most remember from his performance, but his aggressiveness—especially early in the match—was something to behold.
Fernando Muslera, Galatasaray: D
On an evening where his defense blocked many Real Madrid attempts, Muslera was unable to stop the few that were actually on target. He allowed Benzema and Ronaldo to get critical goals that put his team in a hole early, and Higuain's clincher may have cost his side even a remote chance of advancing.
No matter, Galatasaray looks at a deficit heading into the second leg and their goalkeeper is as much to blame as any.
Simply put, more is expected of Muslera than he put out on Wednesday. Galatasaray will be expecting far more in the second leg, as will a home crowd desperate to see their side advance.
Didier Drogba, Galatasaray: C+
Unfinished chances will be what most of Galatasaray's players dream about Wednesday night, and none more than Drogba. He was in close to the box multiple times during the match, only to turn the ball over or see his shot get blocked by Madrid.
On a day where Galatasaray's attack was mostly listless, Drogba at least showed some form of aggression. In his reunion with Mourinho, Drogba continued to show flashes of what makes him such a special player at times.
That said, flashes don't score goals.