There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Real Madrid had been the better team than Atletico in the first leg of their Champions league matchup. They truly came out of the tunnel firing on all cylinders, and had a load of chances – one of which Bale (at his price tag and skill level) should have finished. That said, Atletico stayed true to their gritty nature, pulling off a defensive victory to grab the draw. Lucky for them, going into this second leg, they knew that a 1-1 draw would be enough to secure the victory, and they also knew that Modric and Bale were unable to play due to injury.The stars aligned in their favor, and going into this game I really expected them, with their experience and tenacity, to come through with a victory.
At the same time, visions of the future had me second-guessing myself: It’s so easy to imagine Cristiano bagging a brace, being the hero, and moving onto the next round. That being said, this would require that Jese and Isco (Bale & Modric replacements), come into the team and play like experienced veterans – and that Javier Hernandez uses his outstanding work rate to makeup for the skills that he doesn’t have (and that Benzema does have) … And to be honest, that’s what I thought would be most interesting about this game — even more than the Cristiano vs. Juanfran battle – which is always an awesome match. But then…. I saw the starting lineup… Javier Hernandez up front with Ronaldo, with James, Kroos, Isco, and of all people, Sergio Ramos all playing behind them… The back four was a bit more normal, with Pepe replacing the midfield Ramos, but I didn’t know what to expect from this lineup… and I was really surprised that for the most part, it worked.
Real’s lineup was a cautious one, but smart one, Hernandez had a decent chance but miss kicked it in the first ten minutes. And then at one point he flicked a nice pass to Ronaldo, who kicked it wide with his left foot. He also squandered a chance towards the end of the first half, but as we all know — he later made up for it with an awesome assist.
Throughout the game, Sergio Ramos really controlled the tempo from midfield – he
possessed the technique and passing to keep up with the midfield teammates around him, and he played well under-pressure from the Atletico midfield. I truly think that he won the game for them – I mean… he also drew the red card that completely turned the tide for Real. It seemed as though the red card gave Real the confidence to attack and use the space available to them, and the one-two that Ronaldo played with Carvajal was truly representative of that. That being said, Chicharito deserves so much praise for his effort, not because he scored the winning goal, but because he kept up with the always fit-as-a-whistle Ronaldo, and his positioning was outstanding. He’s truly the unsung hero that probably won’t get as much credit as he deserves for his performance, because at the end of the day, Real is Ronaldo’s club (and he always gets the credit).
Back to Ramos: As a midfielder he reminded me of Xabi Alonso, only a fitter, more and more dominating Xabi Alonso. He’s one of the feistiest players in the world, and it looked like he loved being in the thick of the action at midfield. He won so many aerial battles, and though he isn’t as gifted as a passer as Kroos, James or Modric, he can certainly hold his own.
Moving forward though, Real must continue to win with like this… It’s not going to be easy without Bale, Benzema or Modric and this game could have easily gone either way. Whereas Barcelona can win it all through their chemistry as a unit, Real’s injuries put them in a very different position to the one that they were in last year: they must win through adapting: And Carlo Ancelotti understands that – thus the risk of using Ramos at midfield. I trust that Ancelotti has the the brains to continue to put together on-the-fly starting lineups, but I sincerely doubt today’s Real Madrid, could beat Barcelona or Bayern in their current form.