UEFA Champions League 2016/17: Real Madrid rallies to beat Napoli, 5 Talking Points


A detalied look at Real Madrid's 3-1 win over Napoli in the first leg of the Uefa Champions League round of 16 match.

A clinical performance from Real Madrid helped them overcome Napoli's challenge in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie. The final score might look a bit one sided but it was far from it as the Italian side provided a stern test to the reigning champions. Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring for the visitors in the opening 10 minutes as shocking positioning from goalkeeper Keylor Navas saw Insigne score from 40 yards. 
Karim Benzema levelled the proceedings with a towering header 10 minutes later and at half-time, both sides were still vying to take a hold of the game. Toni Kroos gave Real Madrid a lead with a trademark finish after some neat footwork from Cristiano Ronaldo, while Casemiro scored the third with a belter of a finish.
A dipping 30-yard volley saw Napoli's resistance finally come to an end as Real head to Naples with a strong two-goal lead.
Let's take a look at the five talking points from the first leg that was played at the Bernabeu: 
1 Real Madrid's experience at this level won this tie for them 
Napoli have never advanced to the last eight of the Champions League in their history and that inexperience showed against Real Madrid last night. An early away goal could not set the ball rolling for Maurizio Sarri's men, as a professional second-half display from the hosts saw them take a two-goal lead to the San Paolo in two week's time. 
Zinedine Zidane set up his team perfectly last night and made some important tweaks in the game to change the course of the game. The manager noticed Napoli's weakness of the attackers cutting in from the flanks and deployed Cristiano Ronaldo to take full advantage of that.
The Italian were defending deep which left space in front of their 18-yard box which was fully utilised by Toni Kroos and Casemiro. These little adjustments saw Real Madrid rekindle their dream of becoming the first club in the Champions League era to retain the coveted cup. 
2 Napoli deserved more from the first leg
A solid backing of 10,000 fans arrived from Naples to Spain to support their beloved team and the Italian side's favourite son, Diego Maradona also gave a pre-match pep talk to the squad but it could not have the desired impact as Napoli surrendered a one-goal lead and now have a mountain to climb in the second leg at home. Real Madrid did not completely outplay their visitors and Zidane might feel lucky that the game ended with just a solitary away goal for Napoli. 
Dries Mertens, Napoli's top scorer this season, agonisingly missed the target, while an early run from Jose Callejon saw a near perfect move to be rightly judged offside. Even Real did not have clear cut chances in the course of the game, but an absolute wonder goal from Casemiro gave Real Madrid some relief at the end.
Before the game, Napoli manager Sarri had said that he wanted to know where his side stood against the European champions and the performance from his team shows that Napoli are set for bigger things in the near future.
3 Karim Benzema's enviable Champions League record
Karim Benzema is now the third highest goal scorer from the current crop of players after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and is fifth overall in the Champions League era. Last night's bullet header saw him overtake compatriot, Thierry Henry's tally of 50 Champions League goals, with Benzema’s 51st coming when his team needed it the most.
The Frenchman has a not-so-good relationship with the fans, and the media and supporters want the forward to be dropped for local boy, Alvaro Morata. 
Despite constant criticism, Benzema rose to the occasion when it mattered the most and also had a few more chances to settle the tie in the first half itself. There were murmurs of a new deal being offered to the Frenchman which will keep him at the club till 2022. If he continues his European exploits this season, Morata would have to move yet again from the Bernabeu to accommodate Benzema in Real's immediate future.  
4 Napoli's weak bench could not change the away side’s performance
Maurizio Sarri had to make quick decisions in the second half after his team conceded two goals in the space of 10 minutes. Napoli had started either Amadou Diawara or Piotr Zielinski in their league games but at the magnitude of this tie, Sarri gave a start to both of them last night.
This decision backfired as the Napoli manager had to bring a defensive option in Allan to replace Zielinski. Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik has just returned from a major knee injury and was not at the desired fitness level to change the game whereas Emmanuel Giaccherini’s age is catching up with him.
All three of Napoli's substitutions could not help the team to reduce the deficit and a lack of quality options on the bench saw them surrender the first leg to Real Madrid. 
5 Keylor Navas' positioning sets him for a move in the summer 
Taking nothing away from Insigne's precise strike for the first goal, it was Navas's bad judgement which made it easy for Napoli in the first 10 ten minutes. The Madrid goalkeeper has been a solid figure for Los Blancos in their European success in recent seasons but has recently faced a lot of flak for his performances. In the Copa del Rey tie against Sevilla, he committed a similar mistake which ended Real Madrid's 40-match unbeaten run. 
Rumours have started circulating that club president Florentino Perez wants a big name to be Real's custodian for the next season. A shortlist of David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois and Hugo Lloris has been made by the club to target in the summer with Lloris looking the easiest of the three to bring to the Bernabeu.
Navas has been a brilliant player for the European champions and might still have a future at the club if he works out on his weaknesses.
Source: All Football

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