Wednesday, 20 February 2008

No Roman holiday

A familiar pattern: early lead from Real, who had the best of the possession, squandered as the home team soak up the pressure and make the most of their few chances to edge the game 2-1. Like the Betis game, Bernd Schuster failed to take any of the blame for the result, focusing only on how his team "deserved more" for their efforts.

There is a certain amount of consensus in the Spanish press that Real Madrid did indeed play well (better than at the weekend in Sevilla) and possibly deserved to take more from the Stadio Olimpico in Rome than the away goal. Some Roma fans experienced a certain degree of anxiety as the clock wound down, fearing a second goal from Real that never came. The numbers show that he visitors had around 60% of possession and the same number of chances on goal as Roma. But numbers don't tell the whole story.

Aside from Raúl's early goal and a Van Nistelrooy shot hitting the woodwork, Real showed a frightening lack of effectiveness up front, with up to 10 shots going wide (well wide on some occassions) and are now suffering a fate similar to the one they were inflicting on opponents earlier in the season. Schuster does not seem to want to experiment too much with his strikers, so Saviola and Soldado and even Higuaín are unlikely to get much playing time barring injuries. Brightest up front was once again Robben, who raced past former Real player Panucci time and again.

Uncharacteristically, the back four were all pretty effective last night: Heinze played the full 90 minutes and although he must take some blame for the 2nd Roma goal, he was pretty solid all evening. Unfortunately, Sergio Ramos picked up a booking and will miss the return leg (please, don't replace him with Salgado!). The midfield, on the other hand, was a bit of a dog's dinner. Playing more horizontally than vertically is a good way to keep possession, but not a good way to threaten the opposition's goal. More bizarrely, the sight of Diarra in Guti's position and viceversa must have had some wondering if Schuster had lost the plot. Bringing on Drenthe and Baptista gave Real some more speed and danger, but why did he have to wait until 10 minutes from time?

Real Madrid have now lost their unbeaten record at the Olimpico, and run the risk of getting knocked out at the last 16 stage for the 4th year running. February has been a disappointing month so far with 3 away defeats punctuated by that 7-0 home win. However, a 2-1 result is by no means insurmountable, and with Real's record at home this season, there is some room for optimism, but the squad have to regain the killer instinct they seem to have mislaid if they want to progress any further.


estoverao said...

This loss makes me nervous and excited at the same time. The Bernabeau is going to be on fire for the 2nd leg and its the kind of big game when you really get to see what this team is all about. Honestly, this year, in almost every must win situation we have played really really well. I just hope Robinho is fully recovered because with him on the left and Robben on the right our wings are extremely dangerous on both sides which should even free up the old guys like Ruud and Raul do be at their goal poaching best.

Brian (Anon) said...

Is there a timetable for the return of Pepe?

Anonymous said...

Both Pepe and Robinho are now back in training and expected to make a reappearance in the next week or so (either at Recreativo next weekend, or in the Champions League decider against Roma). Given that Sergio Ramos is suspended for the game, it'll be good to have another member of the back four returning; I just hope it doesn't mean we get to suffer with Salgado on the right.