Real Madrid ensured their Champions League group stage finished with a win after seeing off Club Brugge 2-1, with three second half goals securing victory at the Jan Breydel Stadium on Wednesday night.
An entertaining first half failed to produce any goals, but saw chances fall for both sides alongside plenty of guts and fight in the pouring Belgian rain. Emmanuel Dennis thought he had put the hosts in front in first-half stoppage time, only to see the offside flag go up and VAR correctly concur with the decision.
Madrid managed to get their passing game in gear for the second period as Rodrygo struck Álvaro Odriozola’s cross sweetly on the half-volley to nestle the ball into Simon Mignolet’s far corner. The lead lasted less than three minutes, however, as Hans Vanaken placed a composed finish beyond Alphonse Areola to send the home fans into raptures.
The visitors hit back once more though, as Vinicius’ neat finish in the box put Los Blancos in front after Rodrygo laid the Brazilian off with a backheel.
Zinedine Zidane’s side saw out the game with relative comfort as their midfield starved the Belgian side of possession, with Luka Modric adding gloss to the scoreline in added time to set themselves up for the round of 16 – finishing runners up to Paris Saint-Germain in Group A.
Starting XI: Mignolet (7); Kossounou (6), Mechele (6), Deli (5); Alvarez (6), Vlietinck (5), Sobol (7), Vormer (6), Vanaken (6); Dennis (7*), Tau (6)
Substitutes: Schrijvers (5), De Ketelaere (5)
Key Talking Point
A total dead-rubber, no matter what the outcome was on Wednesday night, Madrid were assured of a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League behind Group A leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
In a raucous atmosphere, the energy of the crowd rubbed off on the players, with hefty challenges flying in throughout the opening 45 minutes, with Los Blancos failing to find their rhythm against the fired up hosts. That said, the lively Isco posed a threat throughout with some intricate play, in the biggest positive for Zinedine Zidane’s side.
Clearly noticing where his side were going to be most effective, Zidane insisted on Isco seeing more of the ball, with the Spaniard playing a key role in both his side’s goals during the second half. Weaving in and out of challenges and drawing the opposition in, Vinicius and Rodrygo were allowed more space down the flanks from which Madrid caused their Belgian opponents multiple issues.
Not a full strength side by any means, there was still enough quality from the Spanish side to see off their plucky opponents, with the creative Isco presenting his manager with something to think about ahead of upcoming La Liga fixtures. The 27-year-old has barely had a sniff in domestic action until recently, but embodied the attacking intent Madrid showed on the night.
Starting XI: Areola (7), Odriozola (7), Varane (7), Militao (6), Mendy (6); Casemiro (6), Modric (7), Rodrygo (7), Isco (8*), Vinicius (7); Jovic (5).
Substitutes: Diaz (5), Benzema (6), Valverde (N/A).
The aforementioned Isco was Madrid’s best player by a country mile. Unable to get a regular run in the side under Zidane, on performances such as this, that is truly hard to believe. His ability to both spot danger in tight areas but equally drive at teams and unpick the tightest of defences is something most sides in Europe would benefit from.
If he doesn’t get more gametime soon, there will be plenty of suitors for the tricky Spanish international.