UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse how Madrid's experienced midfielders helped them see off Celtic on Matchday 1.
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Real Madrid did not have things all their own way when they began their title defence at Celtic Park on Matchday 1. Yet unlike the Scottish champions, they took their chances as their midfield veterans Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić stamped their class on yet another Champions League contest.
The UEFA Technical Observer panel analyses Tuesday night's entertaining Group F contest in this article, brought to you by FedEx.
0-1: Vinícius Júnior (56)
The Brazilian picked up where he had left off at the Stade de France in May, converting a cross by Federico Valverde to score at the far post. The goal originated with a wonderful passing move – 22 passes in all – as Madrid got through the high press of their hosts and into space behind the defence for Valverde to deliver a terrific low cross from out on the right with Vinícius Júnior applying the finish to find the net for the fourth game running.
0-2: Luka Modrić (60)
Three days before his 37th birthday, the Croatian marked his 100th appearance for Madrid in the competition with a goal. Substitute Eden Hazard played a significant role by carrying the ball from the centre circle to the D before feeding Modrić, who stepped inside two opponents before producing a lovely finish with the outside of his right boot.
0-3: Eden Hazard (77)
Hazard's first goal in the competition since November 2020 was a tap-in from a cut-back by Dani Carvajal after he had been picked out beyond the far post by a terrific angled ball. That's the concise summary of a goal which concluded a 33-pass move as Carlo Ancelotti's defending champions underlined their credentials.
Player of the Match: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
Kroos was crucial for Real with his ability and moreover his decision-making on the ball – whether it was to keep possession, open up the game, go deep. As the UEFA Technical Observer panel said: "He had a big role in controlling the match for Real Madrid, especially in the difficult moments of the first half. He attempted the most passes, with his choice of playing possession or to open the game up always well executed." To quote the player himself, it was a night where "we had to show calmness and to seek control of the ball" – and for that, there are few players better than the German.
Ange Postecoglou's men lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and the formation here shows their set-up without the ball when they looked to put Madrid under pressure, particularly during a high-tempo first half. Both with the ball and without, right-back Josip Juranović (88) caught the eye of the UEFA match observer: he was strong and reliable in his defensive work and used the ball well, providing the cross for the opportunity that half-time substitute Daizen Maeda missed. Towards the end of the game, with Madrid firmly in control, they dropped deeper into a 4-5-1 with six or seven players back inside their own half of the field.
Madrid's line-up featured ten of the players who started last May's final with Aurélien Tchouaméni (18) providing the only exception as the summer signing from Monaco started in the midfield alongside Kroos (8) and Modrić (10). Kroos was pivotal in the build-up, always available for the ball, while Modrić brought his customary calm too, helping Madrid hold on to the ball to achieve control. On the right, Carvajal (2) was a constant threat offensively and combined well with Valverde (15).
Celtic entered this opening Group F fixture having won their first seven matches of the season and they asked serious questions of the holders in the opening period. They pressed with great energy – forcing Thibaut Courtois to clear the ball out of play inside the first 10 seconds. They maintained a high tempo through the first period and succeeded in creating chances, and were unfortunate when Callum McGregor clipped the inside of the post during the first period.
Overall, Celtic had ten attempts to Madrid's 12 and they created another opening just after the break, when they succeed in harrying Valverde out of possession before springing forward on a counter that ended with Maeda failing to connect cleanly from seven metres, scuffing a Juranović cross straight at Courtois.
If Celtic warranted praise so too did Madrid. Once again they showed their knowhow, not panicking but staying calm and gradually assuming control with their quality on the ball, their decision-taking and of course their execution. Once Celtic dropped their levels in the second half, Madrid punished them. As McGregor said: "We had a spell where we lost concentration and that's why they're the holders. They have so much quality on the counter."
Of all 32 teams in the group stage, Madrid registered the most moves of ten passes or more this week – 32, one ahead of second-ranked Ajax. The clip in the video shows the move that brought the opening goal for Vinícius Júnior, a move begun by Courtois' throw-out and concluded by the Brazilian's far-post conversion of Valverde's cross. They would outdo it before the night was out with the move that brought Hazard's goal.
Ange Postecoglou, Celtic manager: "The first goal was always going to be crucial. Up until that point, I thought we were well in the game. We probably had the better opportunities. We handled their threats really well and caused them some problems. Once the first goal went in, we lost our composure a bit and they've got the quality to punish you. They controlled that game really well after they scored. We had to chase the game a little bit, which inevitably leaves spaces."
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach: "Our first half definitely could have been better but the second half we produced was perfect. As the game went on, we used the energy our younger players brought us and it was noticeable that the fans appreciated our play. Kroos was important in how we managed possession; he was spectacular as usual. When we have Kroos and Modrić controlling the ball, it's really hard for rivals to press us well."