It looked to be an entertaining match between two pacy, counter-attacking sides with Madrid up early but the irrepressible Rayo Vallecano continuing to attack. But with Sergio Ramos off within 20 minutes, a necessary change of tactics ruined the spectacle.
Sergio Ramos initially played at right-back with Pepe and Raphael Varane in the centre and Coentrao on the left. Essien and Khedira paired in the midfield. Mesut Ozil was shifted right to make way for Kaka, with Cristiano Ronaldo and surprise inclusion Alvaro Morata being allowed to start and completing the attack.
The First 20 Minutes
The game - the result and the way in which it was ultimately played - was decided in the first 20 minutes with Mourinho’s surprising line-up turning up trumps. Within 3 minutes, Ozil and Kaka had combined beautifully to put Morata through on goal. The youngster scored, to the delight of the crowd who were pleased to see their local boy doing well.
The next several minutes saw Madrid playing a fast game that alternated between counter-attacks. Madrid would attack, fall back. Rayo would attack, fall back. Ozil, Kaka, CR7 and Khedira launched forward and passed well. It was an open game and was very entertaining to watch.
Eight minutes after the first goal, in the 12th minute, Ozil whipped in a free kick and Ramos scored.
Five minutes after that, Ramos was sent off after what the referee believed were two yellow card offences.
Tactical changes were made at once as a result of the sending off because although they were two goals down, Rayo was playing very well.
Michael Essien temporarily moved to the right-back position before Raul Albiol came on for a very disappointed Alvaro Morata. Madrid switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4 when attacking and a 4-4-1 when defending.
Mourinho’s defensive substitutions worked – and not. Albiol was visibly uncomfortable on the right, but Ozil, in the 50 minutes they were on the pitch together, worked as an auxiliary full-back to cover him and the rest of the right wing, sometimes also running into the centre of defence to help clear balls before helping to re-launch counter-attacks or make a supporting run for one Kaka’s forays forward. It was, to put it mildly, a busy night for the German.
Essien moved back to midfield next to Khedira, where the two of them worked very hard to shield the defence. The forwards were also dropping back to defend and force Rayo to play a possession game rather than counter as they would have preferred. Kaka dropped considerably further back than he usually would have to allow him to start playing from deep, so that Madrid would not have a man-disadvantage when breaking and to help out Coentrao.
At the end of the match, Angel di Maria came on for Ozil and Jose Callejon came on for Kaka.
Madrid’s tactics after the first twenty minutes (already two goals ahead) were plain: get the ball back, break to the opposition goal as fast as possible and always, even if it wasn’t a likely chance, shoot at goal rather than build up play around the box since losing the ball up the pitch around the opposition box would allow Rayo to break in their turn.
An explanation is in order. Rayo are a team that enjoy passing the ball along the ground. Even with Madrid's known defensive weakness for dealing with crosses they took nearly every corner shot they were awarded short, and passed nearly every free kick they were awarded along the ground. They are plainly very good at passing and are a fast, direct team.
So to avoid playing to their opponent’s strengths, Madrid’s attackers would launch forward – CR7, Kaka, Ozil, Khedira – and would shoot as soon as they had the space, rather than try to hold up the ball. This bought time since when a goal-kick is taken the players could all hurry back to their defensive positions. It had an added benefit, in not allowing Rayo’s defence or their centre-backs to venture too far forward into Madrid territory or to ever relax. Rayo were excellent and were unfortunate to have conceded so early. A man advantage against a fairly organized team that is already two goals ahead is rarely that much of an advantage, and the officiating will have affected their game too.
Other Individual Notes
Diego Lopez is growing into his role as first-choice goalkeeper for the next few weeks. His calm on the ball was notable. He made a brilliant finger-tip save to deny Rayo and marshaled his defence very well. Less inclined, generally, to get off his line than Iker Casillas, he still ran forward twice to clear when it looked as though a Rayo attacker might get to the ball and a back-pass had been sent in his direction.
Raphel Varane had his usual competent, quiet, disciplined, nearly perfect defensive game. He made a slide-rule tackle just before half-time at a moment in the game when Rayo would probably have liked to score. Like most of his tackles, it was perfect.
Mesut Ozil was brilliant. The defensive aspect of his game needs some reconsideration from commentators who are fond of claiming it is his weakness. He left the pitch, completely exhausted, for Angel di Maria, having put in a shift as a right-back and as a right-winger. His defensive game was perfect, his passing near the box when he broke to help the attack showed the usual skill and precision and continued to produce the best chances.
Sami Khedira’s tactical discipline is excellent. His pace and work-rate can never be faulted. His shooting needs some desperate work. When a player makes that many intelligent runs, links up well with his fellow German playmaker, and is always in the right place, a goal should result at least occasionally! It is not his role, but Madrid could always use another regular goal-scorer and the intelligence and work-rate are there. He has his work cut out for him.
Kaka played well and it is sad that events in the game meant that he, along with the other attackers, spent all their time deliberately breaking only to shoot and run back. For the first 20 minutes he and Ozil linked up beautifully, creating the first goal together and running the attack. Even when circumstances no longer favoured his type of game, he showed the pace that he used to have before his injury and is, plainly, in very good physical shape. His exhaustion at the end of the match was no sign of a lack of match-fitness but of the endless running he continued to do in a very good performance. Of all Madrid's attackers, he made the greatest effort to hold up the ball in his new role as a sort of false nine - albeit, one that was forced to defend.
From Madrid’s perspective: Ramos sent off for two yellow cards within one minute speaks for itself. Both "fouls" were soft. The second involved a handball from 3 feet that was clearly unintentional and not in a dangerous area of the pitch. Cristiano Ronaldo was carded for a 50/50 ball. A dive in the Madrid penalty box was not awarded a yellow card after Rayo's attacker deliberately charged toward (and pretended to trip over) Kaka’s entirely innocent leg – which was several inches beyond him. Rayo Vallecano's Lass, with 15 minutes remaining, cradled the ball in his arms like a new-born infant after bringing it down, but was not sent off for a second foul.
From Rayo’s perspective: A clear onside pass from the Rayo midfield to one of their forwards was adjudged to be offside – incorrectly. The Rayo player was well onside and in a great position to pass back. Coentrao could have conceded a penalty early in the second half and Rayo fans will agree it should have been given.
From the perspective of both teams: it was raining more than water on the pitch. With two such soft yellow cards within twenty minutes, the most innocuous fouls were called. It led, indirectly, to a stressful and increasingly (and unnecessarily) ill-tempered match between the sides.
In a word: disgraceful. The officiating also ruined what looked to be an entertaining match in the first quarter hour with both teams attacking non-stop in a completely open game. It is an insult to the league that an officiating performance that bad, ill-tempered, and incompetent should be allowed to ruin the spectacle.
At least it was even. Both sides suffered. Rayo in particular will have vital players missing for next week for accumulated yellows in a season when they are trying to challenge for a European spot.
An excellent result for Madrid in front of some very enthusiastic fans and a testament to the virtues of scoring early and often! The tactics after the sending off were intelligent, though Alvaro Morata will naturally be disappointed to have been replaced after 20 minutes. Players helped each other, with Kaka and Ozil helping considerably in defence, and both sides showed some commendable restraint in the face of some awful officiating.
Our next league match will be against Deportivo on Saturday.
Who was Madrid's Man of the Match?
Mesut Ozil (114 votes)
Kaka (92 votes)
Other (12 votes)
218 total votes