Real coach eyes further improvement

Real Madrid's Isco (not seen) curls a free kick into the top corner for the opening goal against Roma.
Real Madrid's Isco (not seen) curls a free kick into the top corner for the opening goal against Roma.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID • Real Madrid have been learning to play as an evolved cohesive unit since the summer departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, and coach Julen Lopetegui praised his side for doing exactly that during their 3-0 Champions League Group G win over Roma on Wednesday.

In front of the Bernabeu faithful, Real showed they hardly missed their former star's prowess from dead balls as Isco curled in a special of his own just before half-time.

Gareth Bale, often overshadowed by Ronaldo in attack, then added a second in the 58th minute. Striker Mariano Diaz, making his second debut for Real as a substitute after returning from Lyon last month and taking over Ronaldo's No. 7 shirt, smashed home a third in added time.

"We have a great team and we will work to improve even more in order to get the best out of every player," Lopetegui said. "I wouldn't put the spotlight on one or two players. I think the whole team produced a great performance.

"We showed a lot of enthusiasm and energy from the start, we were excellent in attack and defence, created a lot of chances and were worthy winners."

It was just one night in Madrid but, by the end of it, Real's fans left the stadium wondering if this team might be better than the one that won three European Cups in a row.

Former coach Zinedine Zidane has gone, with record scorer Ronaldo gone too, and sent off on his Champions League debut for Juventus 400km away in Valencia on his first return to Spain.

The team may have been reborn but it has certainly been redefined.

One thing that has not changed is this club's belief that somehow this competition belongs to them.

"Real Madrid will always be Real Madrid, no matter who leaves. We keep on trying to win, keep on trying to score goals," said Bale, whose goal was his fourth in five matches.

Roma coach Eusebio di Francesco admitted that Real's quality on the ball was far too good for his team, semi-finalists last season.

"We suffered their quality and through balls in the first half, as they find it so easy to move the ball around and find those channels," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"It's a pity we had chances to hurt them on the counter, but we made far too many mistakes and our final ball was never right."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2018, with the headline 'Real coach eyes further improvement'. Print Edition | Subscribe