MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18: Nuri Sahin of Real Madrid warms up during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Malaga CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Real Madrid almost ensured their pass to the UEFA Champions League semifinals in Nuri Sahin's return to the starting lineup since last January. Karim Benzema, Kaka' and Marcelo were Real Madrid's most highlighted players, but the Turkish midfielder performed really well also.
APOEL only concentrated on defense, so Iker Casillas didn't even have to stop a single shot. Even though Real Madrid kept most of the possession in the first half, the players weren't able to create as many scoring chances as usual. Higuaín was arguably Real Madrid's worst attacker tonight as he was completely invisible during his whole time on the pitch.
Mourinho chose to play Coentrao and Sahin to replace Marcelo and Xabi Alonso. The Brazilian left back didn't have a problem but Alonso was out due to a sanction. Coentrao defended and pressed APOEL very well, but he couldn't help his teammates as much as Marcelo does in the offensive part of the game.
Every Real Madrid fan wanted to see how Nuri Sahin would perform in a serious game. And he did play well. He organized Real Madrid's players and gave away some nice long passes. He will surely feel good about how he played today, and Mourinho will too. Given Xabi Alonso's shape, Sahin could be a very valuable asset for the last two months of the season.
Real Madrid's only good chance of scoring came after Nuri Sahin pass the ball to Karim Benzema. The French player only needed to push the ball inside the net, but he touched it with his heel and the ball went too high. The team didn't score nor had tons of chances, but Real Madrid felt really comfortable on the field and felt like the goal was about to be scored.
The second half started and Real Madrid went a little bit harder to APOEL's goal. A 0-0 result is usually dangerous when you're playing away from home since the other team would make it to the next round with any given draw (other than the exact same result). Mourinho knew this and substituted Coentrao and Higuaín for Marcelo and Kaka' in the 64th minute. The team was certainly lacking some creative players, and both Kaka' and Marcelo are great doing that.
Only ten minutes passed when Kaka' crossed a great ball to Karim Benzema, whose header went inside the net. This first goal was key to Real Madrid's play, since APOEL now couldn't afford to finish the game with that result. The Cypriot team didn't go to the attack, so Marcelo felt even more comfortable.
The Brazilian player was already unleashed, and Real Madrid's second goal was one of his creations. He gave the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese player returned it to Marcelo with his heel, and when everybody thought the left back had been brought down by one of APOEL's defenders, he passed it to Kaka' from the ground. Marcelo is key in these kind of games when the rivals aren't able of creating good opportunities. He's certainly one of the best playmakers in the whole world, and he plays at the left back position.
The team and the fans thought it was over, but Real Madrid still managed to score its third goal off a counter attack in the 90th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo passed the ball to Mesut Özil, whose amazing pass to Karim Benzema almost meant that Real Madrid will be in the Champions League Semifinals.
This will be key, as Real Madrid will be able to rest some key players in next week's game against APOEL in the Santiago Bernabéu prior to Valencia's visit to the white coliseum. Remember to follow Managing Madrid on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up on the latest news.
Who was the Man of the Match?
Marcelo (28 votes)
Kaka' (178 votes)
Benzema (31 votes)
Other (comment section is below) (7 votes)
244 total votes