Isco stars as Real knocks Galatasaray for six

Posted by Rob Train

Burak Kara/Getty ImagesGareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo had plenty to cheer as Madrid rolled to victory in Turkey.

Real Madrid's quest for the Decima couldn't have gotten off to a better start in Istanbul. A potentially tricky opening to the campaign against Galatasaray -- which was a pesky rival for Jose Mourinho's former team in the Champions League last season and actually beat Real in Turkey -- was not merely avoided; Carlo Ancelotti's vision for how Real should operate was showcased in a 6-1 victory. The score line isn't exactly flattering to the home side, which had Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera to thank for preventing an even worse rout.

- Report: Galatasaray 1-6 Real Madrid
- Corrigan: Three things on Real Madrid's win

The buildup to the match had been dominated by Ancelotti's decision to hand goalkeeper Iker Casillas his first competitive start since Jan. 23, but the Real captain lasted less than 15 minutes on his return to the first team: Leaping for a ball, neither Casillas nor Sergio Ramos had each other in view, and the resulting collision eventually forced Casillas off the field with what the club's medical staff confirmed were bruised ribs -- nothing broken, except a little more of the club icon's self-esteem. In his short time between the sticks, Casillas made one decent save, but when Diego Lopez was called into action, diving low a few minutes later, Ancelotti's rotation policy lost a little of its sporting credibility. The former Villarreal stopper is in the form of his life, and surely risking a player who has been mostly idle throughout 2013 was a sop to the institution of Casillas rather than a purely tactical consideration.

Little matter -- the issue of Casillas' bench-warming will rumble on until Lopez gets injured or the captain decides he's had enough and jumps ship. What is unfolding at the other end of the field is where the Bernabeu should be concentrating its attention. Ancelotti elected again to field a formation that could keep possession, press high up the field, and hit Galatasaray on the break when possible. As in previous matches, it took a little while for the front four to find its line, but Luka Modric and Sami Khedira shielded the back four to good effect. The Croatian is rapidly installing himself as one of the first names on the team sheet, but the night in Istanbul belonged to Isco.

Real fans were practically unanimous in lamenting the departure of Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline, but the former Malaga man has taken no time at all to fill the German's boots. Isco opened the scoring, assisted two more and put Ronaldo through with a lofted ball over the top in the second half that brought to mind the wiles of Davor Suker. The manner in which Isco controlled Angel di Maria's raking pass to give himself space to score was a touch that Dimitar Berbatov, or any of the greats in bending a high ball to the will of a toe, would have happily claimed as his own. It was also a timely intervention against the run of play after Ramos and Lopez had both prevented Fatih Terim's side from opening the scoring.

There is little doubt that Isco will be a key player for Real this season, but Di Maria is also making his case to keep his berth on the right. The Argentinean was preferred to the still not quite match-fit Gareth Bale, and Di Maria's industry and incision were impeccable. He opened the door for Ronaldo's first goal, wriggling through the defense to the byline and lofting a ball back over the area for Isco to cushion into the path of the Portuguese. Ronaldo's hat trick -- his 51st, 52nd and 53rd goals in the competition -- and Karim Benzema's brace told only half the story; the pair combined on several occasions to devastating effect. In Ancelotti's blueprint, Benzema is involved much more in all phases of play and, despite the odd Gallic shoulder-shrug, he is responding well to the task. Few are the stadiums that have witnessed the laissez-faire Frenchman tracking back as he did in Istanbul on occasion to try to win the ball back.

After Ronaldo added his second, three minutes after his first, the match was all but over as a contest. Real, though, continued to pressure in midfield as they had throughout the match, snatching the ball on several occasions and bursting forward. The signs are that Ancelotti's vision is becoming reality. Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema added the coup de grace, the three combining for Benzema's second, Real's fifth. No. 6 was all Ronaldo: lovely footwork in the area to dance clear of a dejected back line and a left-foot thunderbolt past a helpless Muslera.

Of course, one match does not a Champions League-winning season make, and Real has won its opening match for the past six years. But if a performance like Real's in Istanbul can be replicated often enough, there are few teams that Ancelotti need fear.

Terim's was an evening that Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken and Juventus coach Antonio Conte, whose sides drew 1-1 on Tuesday, would be advised to study: gesticulating wildly, applauding his players and cajoling the officials in the first half, by the end of the second his face was pure granite. Real laid down a marker in Istanbul that will be felt across Europe. Whether it will eventually lead to Estadio da Luz remains to be seen. But it was certainly a ruthlessly efficient start.


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