A lethal first half performance was enough for Real Madrid to see off Eibar, as goals from Toni Kroos, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo put them back to within two points of Barcelona.
The hosts weren’t messing about as this one got underway. Eibar barely sniffed the ball in the opening minutes, and just 180 seconds had passed when Kroos leaned back and curled a spectacular first-time effort into Marko Dmitrovic’s top corner.
Eibar responded by sticking to their gameplan. Former Sevilla midfielder Sebastian Cristoforo was efficient as ever in breaking up play in the middle, but the traffic was all flowing one way, and it was no surprise in the slightest when Eden Hazard laid off Ramos to double the advantage, before Marcelo powered in a third before the break.
For all the Ramos-Marcelo one-two punch took the wind out of Eibar’s sails, their heads didn’t completely drop. After the break, they mounted a mini-barrage, as Edu Exposito and Sergi Enrich both went close, before Pablo De Blasis’ effort comically squirmed past Thibaut Courois after a deflection off Pedro Bigas.
Eibar took heart from their goal and for much of the final half hour, they would have had Zinedine Zidane sweating. But for all a number of substitutions knocked the hosts out of their rhythm, they were able to see it out without too much fuss, and pick up a big three points.
Real had to match the pace set by Barcelona on Saturday evening, and they started like a bolt of lightning. The front three of Rodrygo, Karim Benzema and Hazard looked energised by the prolonged break, and although their ring-rust shone through in spells, they were able to get the job done.
The result never looked in doubt from the minute Kroos got things started with a sumptuous finish, as a robust Eibar side – for all they limited Real to few first half chances – were eviscerated by some clinical finishing.
Kroos and Marcelo finished first-half chances beautifully but the pick of the goals was arguably sandwiched between them; some irresistible build-up play seeing Rodrygo pick out Hazard at the back post, before the Belgian selflessly squared for his waiting captain.
With Ramos among a slate of players withdrawn on the hour mark as Zidane looked on to a hectic fixture list, Real finished the game disjointed and lacking leadership. Eibar threatened to make a game of it and on another day they might have done so, but it would be harsh to grudge Los Blancos’ the victory as they took control of their first game back.
Starting XI: Courtois (6); Carvajal (6), Varane (8), Ramos (7), Marcelo (7); Modric (7), Casemiro (8), Kroos (8); Rodrygo (7), Benzema (6), Hazard (8*)
Substitutes: Mendy (6), Militao (6), Bale (4), Vinicius (5), Valverde (N/A)
It’s been a long, hard season for Eden Hazard, but the break seems to have served him well.
It would be dramatic to say he was ‘back to his best’ – we’ll know about it when that happens – but there were signs of the Hazard of old in his frequent forward forays on the ball.
His classy, selfless assist for Ramos was his only direct contribution before he was withdrawn on the hour mark, but he had a big hand to play in each of Real’s three goals, and his performance will play on the nerves of the ten teams who still have to face him.
Starting XI: Dmitrovic (5); Correa (6), Oliveira (6), Arbilla (6), Soares (5); Cristoforo (7), Alvarez (5), Exposito (6); Orellana (6), Kike (5), De Blasis (7)
Substitutes: Leon (5), Enrich (6), Bigas (6), Inui (6), Burgos (N/A)
Real Madrid will host Valencia on Thursday before travelling to the Basque country to face Real Sociedad at the weekend.
Eibar, meanwhile, have a tough couple of fixtures coming up, as they face Athletic Club on Wednesday before travelling to face Getafe on Saturday.
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