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Match Recap: A Tactical Experiment Goes Awry At The Bernabeu As Madrid Draw Against Espanyol

Mourinho's tactical experiment falls short.

Denis Doyle

After expressing disappointment with this starters against Celta Vigo in the midweek, José Mourinho made some expected changes to his line-up.

The First Half

Only Madrid's forwards were rotated for this game, initially. Karim Benzema, as expected, was dropped from the line-up, apparently with injury. Although various networks announced that Cristiano Ronaldo would be head of the attack it was quickly apparent that José Callejón had been placed there. Ronaldo played, as usual, on the wing. Modric was in the centre, and Özil on the right.

Angel di Maria, rumoured to be under pressure from Mourinho for showing a lack of interest in Madrid's mid-week Copa loss against Celta Vigo was also assigned to the bench.

An excellent team move involving all the forwards and some good work from Arbeloa resulted in Madrid's first excellent chance - not quite finished by Luka Modric - in the 4th minute. The same player would hit the post in the 26th minute. He would then lose the ball in the 30th minute. Espanyol broke and scored through Sergio García, in their second dangerous break of the half.

0-1 to Espanyol.

Madrid maintained 75% possession during the half and it paid off in extra time. Sami Khedira's cross found Cristiano Ronaldo in the 47th minute for a scrappy finish.

Real Madrid 1-1 Espanyol.

Other notes: Espanyol's Wakaso was removed by Coach Aguirre for Alfonso half-way through the first half. The player should have been sent off with a second yellow card, and the coach decided it was not worth the risk. Fabio Coentrao had an involved and energetic first half.

The Second Half

Mourinho removed Luka Modric at the half in favour of Angel di Maria, who is obviously more accustomed to playing with these players in this formation (and who would normally be expected to start). It wasn't exactly a surprise because although Modric had played quite well there was an obvious lack of chemistry among the attackers, with moves breaking down and Cristiano Ronaldo, in particular, crowded out by defenders. It paid off almost immediately. The not always popular Fabio Coentrao scored his first league goal for Real Madrid right in front of a delighted Fondo Sur within 2 minutes off a pass by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Özil, who had been quiet during the first half, became more involved - putting Angel di Maria through on goal twice in the space of a minute. The Argentinian was to hit the bar. In the 63rd minute, di Maria was to return the favour, putting the German through on goal.

Aguirre made his second substitution early, one left-back for another.

Morata, on for Callejón, was Madrid's final substitution.

Madrid were to concede in the final 5 minutes of regular time after shambolic defending in the box. Juan Ángel Albin was to strike to make it 2-2.

Tactical Notes

Espanyol played a tight, withdrawn game in the first half - leaving masses of space in front of the Madrid goal as the defence pressed forward. That they scored on the break in the first half was not really surprising.

In the second half, Khedira and Alonso (in particular) seemed to hold off, creating more space. Espanyol had better chances, but so did Madrid, in a much more open game. The removal of Modric also left portions of the attack (Özil, in particular, who had been quiet in the first half) and our defensive midfield (Alonso and Khedira) with clearer roles to play. Özil and di Maria are players who, of course, speed up the game. Again: Modric had played quite well, but the line-up was muddled. He seemed to be playing a hybrid role in the first half and it is to Mourinho's credit that he realized it wasn't working.

Was this line-up a risk worth taking? Probably not, in the final analysis. Madrid controlled the game in the final 20 minutes but couldn't hold on to their lead. A better first half might have made the difference.

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