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Real Madrid 4 Girona 0: Vinicius Jr and Jude Bellingham star in dominant display – The Briefing

Real Madrid moved five points clear at the top of La Liga as surprise title contenders Girona were thrashed 4-0 in a dominant display from Carlo Ancelotti’s side at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A spectacular strike from Vinicius Junior opened the scoring as Madrid took an early lead, before the Brazilian provided a magical assist for Jude Bellingham to make it 2-0 after rounding the goalkeeper.

It was Bellingham who increased the advantage after half-time, tapping in after Vinicius Jr’s shot was parried — with the Englishman replaced shortly afterwards.

As Girona pressed forward they were left further exposed at the back and Rodrygo grabbed a fourth on the break, Vinicius Jr again with the assist.

Here, The Athletic’s Thom Harris, Dermot Corrigan and Pol Ballús go through the big talking points of a huge Madrid victory.

A Bernabeu education for Girona

Girona began positively, looking to take the initiative, and show they were up for a game so widely billed as a potential La Liga title decider.

Just five minutes in, Vinicius Jr showed them what competing at the top level was all about. There was no big sensation of danger when he cut in from the left wing, with four Girona defenders including right-back Yan Couto nearby. But nobody was close enough, and he only needed a split-second to fire off a shot that flew into the far corner for 1-0.

From there, Vinicius Jr continued to put on a show, looking supremely confident and decisive in everything he did. This included working back into his own half, picking up possession and ensuring that Madrid took complete control of the game.

Vinicius Junior and Bellingham were impressive performers for Madrid (Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images)

With just over half an hour gone, Madrid’s number seven again stamped his class on the occasion. His superb, outside-of-the-boot curved pass into the space behind Girona’s defence was perfectly weighted for Bellingham to race clear and round goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga to score.

Vinicius Jr knew he was performing in front of new Brazil coach Dorival Junior, who was making his first trip to the Bernabeu since he was appointed last month. His marker Couto, another young Brazilian, was enjoying the attention much less, as like many of his team-mates he could not find his usual game with the top-of-the-table pressure on.

Dermot Corrigan

Two of La Liga’s most effortlessly expansive deep-lying midfielders went head to head at the Bernabeu, but only one was able to dictate the game.

Both Madrid’s Toni Kroos (43/43) and Girona’s Aleix Garcia (48/48) maintained flawless passing accuracies in a decisive opening 45 minutes; the former typically pinpoint with his raking switches of play, the latter neat and tidy whenever he had an opportunity to get on the ball (almost constantly under severe pressure).

Kroos’ impressive passing was a key strength of Madrid’s display (David S Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

With the unrelenting physical profiles of Bellingham, Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga up ahead, Kroos was routinely happy to drop into deeper areas, peel away from the pressure and receive the ball in yards of space. His long passes in behind adventurous full-back Miguel Gutierrez were a key feature of that dominant first half, while his three speared passes in the space of 20 seconds in the 47th minute only underlined his luxurious passing range.

Garcia, on the other hand, was largely crowded out in a lop-sided midfield battle. The more lightweight, attack-minded figures of Ivan Martin and Portu flanked Girona’s metronome, but could do little to help as the Madrid steamroll descended.

Perhaps the suspended Yangel Herrera might have provided extra physical bite, but Girona were flattened by a quicker, stronger and more hungry midfield.

Thom Harris

Fearless? Or naive?

​​Girona were not really supposed to be here. Being main actors in a decisive match in La Liga’s title race would, even a year ago, have been a distant dream for a club that was playing in Spain’s fifth tier as recently as 1999, struggling to pay their players. Their home attendances were as low as 200, as locals tended to follow the city’s basketball team rather than football.

But a succession of ownership changes, and a new fearless approach under manager Michel, has brought them into direct competition with La Liga’s giants. After Saturday night however, a big share of the Catalan team’s fans will regret how that fearless approach turned into a naive one at the Santiago Bernabeu, in what was the biggest occasion of their lives.

Girona manager Michel was suspended after his red card last weekend (Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

No-one expected Girona to change their approach, not even with manager Michel suspended and only able to watch from the stands. They are the highest scoring team in La Liga and it never tends to be a good idea to abruptly change from the philosophy that led you into shining like never before. But at the end, if this was the unofficial end of the title race in Spain, Madrid did not need to break much of a sweat to get it over the line.

Pol Ballús

Is La Liga’s title race now over?

Ancelotti and his players had heard all week how Girona were challenging them for the title, and they also had to deal with having all four of their senior centre-backs unavailable for the game.

Inside the stadium, once Vinicius Jr had put Madrid ahead, there was never really any doubt who would win the game. And there was little doubt about who was going to claim this season’s La Liga crown, too.

Ancelotti’s Madrid are now five points clear at the top of La Liga (Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Even in the first half, when in theory Girona were still in the game, Madrid looked just so superior in every way; physically, technically, tactically and most importantly in their supreme confidence and certainty in what they were doing.

It did not seem to matter that they had a patched-up defence. They looked like a team used to playing in such crunch top-of-the-table encounters, with players like Kroos, Vinicius Jr, Bellingham and Valverde enjoying the opportunity to show their champion quality and mentality.

Soon after Rodrygo ran from half way to score his team’s fourth goal, Madrid’s hardcore fans started to chant ‘asi gana Madrid’ (that’s how Madrid win), a response to Girona’s supporters singing it last weekend, when they felt VAR calls were hurting their own title challenge. The same fans also chanted ‘Xavi stay’ late on, enjoying the chance to get a dig at their main rivals Barcelona.

Ancelotti’s team are now five points ahead of Girona, and 11 clear of third-placed Barca (who host Granada tomorrow). There is still more than a third of the La Liga season left to play, but at the Bernabeu on Saturday it felt already inconceivable that anybody else could win this year’s title.

Dermot Corrigan

More to follow.

(Top photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

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