Madrid salvo downs Napoli

Real Madrid scored two goals in five minutes on Wednesday to take a 3-1 lead against Napoli in their Champions League last-16 tie.

Zinedine Zidane returned to his tried-and-tested 4-3-3 formation and rewarded James Rodriguez for his game-changing Osasuna cameo with a start, the Colombian joined back in the team by Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal.

Madrid had won 23 of their previous 32 home matches against Italian opposition, yet their only two-legged victory over a team from the peninsula came last season against Roma, also in the round of 16.

Just seconds after kick-off, Cristiano Ronaldo’s cutback found an unmarked Karim Benzema in the box. However, the striker’s curling shot was batted away by Pepe Reina.

Yet Lorenzo Insigne stunned the Bernabeu when he caught Keylor Navas off his line from some way out and bent an improvised finish into the bottom-right corner of the Costa Rican’s net.

Madrid promptly responded and should’ve equalised through Benzema, who was picked out by Ronaldo in Napoli’s penalty area but – despite being directly in front of Reina’s goal – couldn’t guide his header on target.

The Frenchman did, however, when he flicked home Dani Carvajal’s outside-of-the-boot cross from the right. It was a deserved equaliser for Madrid, who had been pushing hard since conceding.

Ronaldo then missed a sitter as he was slipped in behind by Luka Modric, one-on-one with Pepe Reina, but blazed his finish over.

The No 7 subsequently switched to the right wing and wasted no time in adapting to his new role, angling an inch-perfect ball for Benzema to sweep home, but the striker clipped the post with his finish.

Just four minutes into the second half, Kroos was picked out by Ronaldo’s pullback on the edge of the box and beautifully placed the ball past Reina.

Moments after Marcelo rifled a shot just over from distance, Casemiro went one better, unleashing an absolute rocket on the volley from 30 yards out.

No-one deserved a goal more than Ronaldo on the night, but the No 7’s finishing let him down again as he lofted a cutback into orbit, despite being unmarked.

A turning point in the tie came soon after, when former Madrid man Jose Callejon took a square ball down and laid it on a silver platter for Dries Mertens, but he couldn’t hit the target from only a matter of yards out.

A visionary reverse pass from Kroos back at the other end saw the German play in James, but the midfielder’s finish failed to beat Reina at the goalkeeper’s near post.

Napoli thought they pulled a goal back through Callejon, who slid home Mertens’ ball back across goal, but the winger was a yard offside.

Two more chances fell Madrid’s way before the final whistle. First, Modric curled a shot just over from a corner, before Marcelo’s cross-cum-shot went wide after he was found unmarked, coming in from the left.

Real Madrid 3-1 Napoli

Benzema 18, Kroos 49, Casemiro 54 (RM) Insigne 8 (N)

Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos (Pepe 71), Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; James (Lucas 76), Benzema (Morata 82), Ronaldo

Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Diawara, Zielinski (Allan 75), Hamsik (Hamsik); Insigne, Callejon, Mertens

Referee: Skomina (SLO)

Tags Napoli