Los Blancos started slowly but accelerated throughout the course of the match, looking fairly comfortable and in command by the early stages of the second half. As the second half unfolded, Madrid was able to assert complete control and close Copenhagen down with class and certainty. This dynamic can be thoroughly illustrated by the performance of one player: Angel Di Maria. Di Maria worked hard, made incisive runs and found himself in position to score numerous times during the first half, but the Argentinian ultimately spurned at least a handful of excellent chances. Marcelo, in particular, was able to locate Di Maria with a few considerate balls, with one exceedingly beautiful cross wasted in the 37th minute.
Mirroring the entire team perfectly, Di Maria caught fire after the intermission. First, after some strong hold-up play and a neat little backheel from Karim Benzema got him the ball in stride near the goalmouth, Di Maria flicked an absolutely gorgeous cross to Cristiano Ronaldo to bury with a punishing header. It stands as the most beautifully worked Real Madrid goal of the season thus far. Coming in the 65th minute, the goal provided Madrid with a cushion, renewed confidence and a secure lead they would never relinquish. Di Maria then added a brace, the first on a powerful twisting shot and the second on another piece of individual skill that thoroughly bamboozled Copenhagen's backline. It was a remarkable performance.
But perhaps the most influential man on the pitch was the returning Marcelo. The Brazilian leftback influenced the match immensely from the very outset, adding another dimension to Real Madrid's attack with marauding runs down the left flank the resulted in deadly, precise service for Ronaldo, Di Maria and Benzema. Another positive is observing the chemistry that Marcelo is developing with Luka Modric. Modric played on the deep left side of what appeared to be a 4-3-3 formation and was able to combine with Marcelo to damaging effect. The Croatian playmaker's impact on the match must also be mentioned, as he was supremely confident on the ball, positionally sound, and able to dictate tempo with a range of smoothly accurate passes. He even made the most acrobatic save of the night, cleaning up a dangerous Copenhagen corner late in the first half that would evened the score. The Modric/Marcelo/Ronaldo triad linked up beautifully for Real's first goal in the 21st minute.
Illarra played deepest in midfield and had a solid, if unspectacular evening while Sami Khedira roamed forward much more than normal in the first half, playing an almost box-to-box style that seemed to initially disrupt the balance in midfield. Adjustments were made at the half and the team played with much more fluidity and cohesiveness as the game progressed. The long-waited re-emergence of Raphael Varane seemed to stabilize what had been a shaky backline.
The question must be posed: Was that cohesiveness the product of a team reaching a greater tactical and positional understanding of a new system and with each other or simply down to it possessing a far superior level of quality? Overall the performance was encouraging and Juventus' draw with Galatasaray left Madrid alone at Group B's summit.
Two interesting points were made in the comments of the match thread. The first was that Madrid's reliance on attacking down the left flank, particularly now that Modric seems to integrating there more and more, makes them predictable and overly dependent upon it. Do you agree? And if so, does that concern you?
The second point was that it appeared to many of us that the team was arrayed in a 4-3-3 formation. It certainly appeared that way to me and I think this specific formation could and should be utilized more frequently. Ancelotti was emphatic last week in stating that Madrid were and would be playing a 4-4-2. It got me thinking though...are we overly wedded to formations? Does it matter what formation you set-up in if there is a lack of chemistry and understanding between the players? This lack of understanding has been manifest in the performances of the past few weeks while the players adjust to Ancelotti's framework.
Great job everyone.