Real Madrid sliced opponents AS Roma apart in their Matchday 1 Champions League game, as Julen Lopetegui making his Champions League debut for the club.
Mariano Diaz impressed for Real Madrid by scoring on his first start since returning from the French side, and coach Julen Lopetegui felt he took his chance with glee! After spending a solitary season with Lyon last year, the forward returned to Madrid but was left on the bench in their last game against Athletic Bilbao, a stumbling 1-1 draw, which forced Lopetegui to deflect questions as to why the 25-year-old was left on the bench.
In-form Gareth Bale and Isco had put the defending champions two goals to the good in their opening Group G game against Roma, when Diaz replaced the Welsh star on 83 minutes. And he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, lashing into the top-right corner to add gloss to a commanding performances by the home team.
“His time had come and he made the most of it,” Lopetegui told Movistar after victory in his first Champions League match in charge of Madrid, who have won the tournament for three years in a row. “I’ll take the team’s triumph against a rival like Roma, who last year eliminated Barcelona and went far [the semifinals]. We knew they were going to make things difficult for us, but the team was very good, we made a great match, both defensively and offensively.”
Another player who had a superb game was Croatian star Luka Modric, who set up Bale’s goal and found backing in Isco, who called for the influential midfielder to be given the Ballon d’Or after the match. The Spain medio was not the only one, with Lopetegui also praising Modric’s display.
“He has played a great game,” the former Spain coach said of the player who was linked with a move to Serie A side Inter throughout the transfer window. “He just missed a goal. You know that if you do not take advantage of the opportunities sooner or later the opponent can have them. But the team has played a great game and has deserved the three points.”
Real Madrid will have to somehow replace the unbelievably big boots of Cristiano Ronaldo, and while that may not happen in a player-for-player replacement, sharing the scoring burden among the various talented attackers in the squad may very well be the best option. And Diaz could very well be the biggest beneficiary of this move, but he needs to prove himself and earn a starting berth, for at 25 years old, he does not have much time to cement an automatic berth.
A goal on (re) debut in the Champions League against the Italian giants was a great way to start off.