Thursday, 18 September 2008

At a canter

The 60,000 fans at the Santiago Bernabéu, expecting a sackful of goals last night, went home disappointed after Real Madrid only managed to put two goals past their opponents. BATE Borisov, making their debut in the Champions League, are Real's first Belarussian opposition and showed why they're likely to be the whipping boys of Group H.

The game showed promise after the early first goal (11'), born of a cleverly executed set play. Van der Vaart's corner kick was picked up and swept across to the right by Guti, for Sergio Ramos to calmly side-foot it into the net. However, what followed was a catalogue of missed chances as the pace of the game dropped to a saunter.

It felt more like a training session or a preseason match than a competitive game. Given Real's effectiveness in front of goal against Numancia at the weekend, the best explanation for the lack of accuracy (2 goals out of 22 shots, 10 of which were on target) must be the lack of tension - and it is the job of the coach to instil this into the players.

Compounding Real Madrid's misery, Fernando Gago picked up a hamstring injury after 35 minutes and had to be replaced by Diarra. He could be out for up to four weeks, according to the club's medical services. Cannavaro, returning from injury, managed to get through the 90 minutes without incident.

The second goal arrived 10 minutes into the second half. Raúl's shot on goal was parried by the BATE keeper, Veremko, and the defender's attempted clearance merely founds its way to Van Nistelrooy, who only had to tap it in. The Dutchman added to his tally of 53 Champions League goals, bringing him one closer to team mate Raúl's record of 61 strikes in the competition.

A few minutes later, BATE found themselves one man down, after Anri Khagush was sent off for a second bookable offence. Still, Real Madrid could not find a way through, though Higuaín came closest.

Schuster seemed content with the three points and only expressed mild disappointment in the post-match press conference: "I’m a bit unhappy about having scored only two goals. We deserved more. I did not put the brakes on the game, the players did." Contrast this with Phil Scolari's words on Tuesday, showing his disappointment with his Chelsea players, even after a thumping 4-0 defeat of Bordeaux.

Real Madrid travel to St. Petersburg in two weeks' time to meet current UEFA champions Zenit (of Arshavin fame). They made life difficult for their hosts in their away tie to Juventus, but finally succumbed to a Del Piero free kick 14 minutes from time and will prove a much sterner test for Real.


Elisa said...

Kinda scary Gonzalo. What has changed with the team? You would think they would be happier without all the new players to realign and some stability in the coaching arena? Is it the whole Cronaldo, Robinho, Villa, Cazorla summer fiasco? Have they gone a bit complacent? Who are the leaders? The backline is very suspect. If they continue in this vain, la decíma will be a faded dream. I'm stumped.

Gonzalo said...

I think the squad is still quit a solid compact group; the problem is that there is little depth in certain areas. The loss of Robinho means that the only option on the wing is Robben, who, as we know, is somewhat injury-prone. Up front, the two main strikers are 'getting on a bit', which means they are unlikely to be able to play in every game in a long season. Higuaín is doing well, but there was no replacement for Soldado and there seems to be little point in having Saviola on the payroll.

Who's to blame? It lies squarely on the shoulders of Calderón and Mijatovic. They had over three months to stregnthen the team and singularly failed to do so (even though I think Van der Vaart will prove a useful signing, he came more through accident than anything else)