Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Siege of St. Petersburg

Real Madrid beat UEFA Cup and Supercup holders Zenit St. Petersburg 2-1 to win their first away game in Europe in two years. It was also their second successive win in Russia after beating Lokomotiv Moscow in 2003. The game was played at breakneck pace, especially in the first half, resulting in a very open attacking encounter with a large number of chances from both sides.

Real Madrid laid siege to the Zenit goal in the opening minutes with very fast one-touch football. The pay-off was not long in coming as Van der Vaart crossed into the area for Hubočan to turn it into his own net when trying to clear.

Dick Advocaat's men reacted to the shock of going behind by taking control of the game, with Real struggling to maintain possession. The constant pressure paid off as Danny inched ahead of Heinze to put away a cross from Arshavin after 25 minutes.

Real nearly struck back immediately as Van der Vaart had a shot blocked by Zenit keeper Malafeev. In the end they had to wait another six minutes to regain the lead as Van Nistelrooy pounced onto a loose ball in the area and put it away in typical fashion.

The first half was far from over: Higuaín, who got the nod from Schuster ahead of Raúl to start the game, missed two clear chances (one off a clever backheel by Van der Vaart and the other from a quick counter led by Robben). Casillas, in the other half of the pitch, also had plenty to do with a couple of important saves to keep his side ahead.

The second half started controversially with Hubočan booked presumably for handling the ball in the Real Madrid area when the replay suggested Sergio Ramos was the more likely culprit.

On the hour mark, Schuster brough Javi García on for Van der Vaart. The Spaniard was intended to provide additional cover for Diarra in midfield and to follow the dangerous Danny around, but, if anything, the pressure from Zenit increased in the first few minutes after he came on, and Casillas was again forced to intervene several times.

Real could have made it safe fifteen minutes from time but Higuaín was perhaps too greedy and decided to go for goal when laying it off to Robben may have been the better option. Just three minutes later Arshavin should have equalised but the post denied him when Casillas couldn't.

The last 10 minutes saw Real Madrid suffer to maintain their lead, as Zenit besieged their area to try to get their first point in the Champions League. Drenthe and Saviola came on for Robben and Higuaín but they could contribute little up front. The four minutes of injury time ticked off agonisingly slowly for Schuster's men, but the two goals in the first half in the end proved to be enough.


Anonymous said...

Didn't manage to see this, but from what I'm reading in the press, Real Madrid actually resembled a professional football team at times today. I like the idea of playing Robben and Higuain up front behind Van Nistlerooy. Very aggressive. Interestingly Saviola came on, and NOT Raul. Schuster is actually realising the value of pace, maybe?

The underrated Diarra is really carving a niche for himself in midfield. I'm glad, because he's had nothing but pelters from the fans.

Van Der Vaart looks useful because of his mobility and the pace he brings to Madrid's attacking moves. He has been a great sub for Sjneider but what will Schuster do when he comes back from injury?

De La Red looks like a better player every day too. He will give Gago a real fight for his place.

Guti is really starting to look like the odd man out in this midfield. As far as I am concerned he can stay injured a little while longer.

Gonzalo said...

Saviola only came on with 2 or 3 minutes to go - I expect this was more of a timewasting tactic from Schuster than anything else.

It seems fairly clear now that Schuster intends to rotate his strikers and that includes Raúl (although going on last year's evidence Saviola will be lucky to get more than the odd look-in). Perhaps this so-called influence of Raúl's is not all it is cracked up to be? ;)

Diarra was impressive, especially his distribution which at times looked inspired. Real did look better but wilted sometimes under the intense pressure and Ramos and Pepe made some mistakes at the back that could have ended up costing dearly. At times Real really needed to slow the game down rather than keep the tempo high with their own counters.

You're right about the abundance of riches in midfield - who wants to change VDV and DLR when they're doing so well? Robben too is the only true winger in the side, so Sneijder will have his work cut out and Guti may just get 20 minutes here and there. But, the season is long and we're only a couple of months in.

Anonymous said...

I hope Higuain's confidence wasn't affected by the two misses, you can't make mistakes like that in CL and only lady luck stopped that last night. Also lucky with the ref, who should have let the corner play out at the end of the first half and didn't notice Ramos's hand ball in the area. Nice to see Casillas get back to form, and I thought Pepe was impeccable all through (except the silly surges forward when under seige). Ramos floundered towards the end.
The worst for me was the total lack of ball control and organised football towards the end, when they needed to and are capable of quelling the panic, not CL football at all.

bulers said...

Wouldn't be too worried about Higuain's confidence. He is made for the bigtime. If you remember, he was missing sitter after sitter towards the end of last season, but persevered and came up with successive match-winning goals, including the beauty against Osasuna that brought home the title.

Anonymous said...

I definitely think that Higuain is going to be a class player, but this is a crucial year for him. He needs to get games under his belt particularly when you consider the excellent start he has made.

If he doesn't command a regular place this season it might be better for him to look towards pastures new.