There is a consensus in Spain: playing a high-line against a team like Real Madrid is suicide. Rayo Vallecano, apparently, did not get the memo. Madrid were almost called offside many times during their trip to Vallecas, with Rayo’s defensive line sometimes halfway up the pitch. Twice, unfortunately, the call was incorrect, and two good goals (one by substitute Mesut Özil, another by Karim Benzema) weren't counted.
José Mourinho opted for an experienced defense with Marcelo and Álvaro Arbeloa as left- and right-fullbacks; and Pepe and Ramos in the center of the defense. He seems to have wanted some considerable control in midfield by starting Michael Essien next to Xabi Alonso. Karim Benzema started the game up front. Luka Modrić played just behind him with Cristiano Ronaldo and Ángel di Maria on the wings.
The game was played a day late, thanks to yesterday’s problem with the floodlights. It was, from the beginning, an open game, with a great deal of end-to-end action from both sides. Madrid held a slight edge in that their passing in the final third was more effective, but the team wasted many opportunities and suffered from a lack of creative play.
The team also struggled to hold onto possession and complete a long series of passes. Rayo Vallecano pressed well and the narrowness of their pitch, along with their high defensive line, helped them cover the midfield very well. They also forced a save off the line by Xabi Alonso toward the end of the first half.
This lack of control in the center of the park from Madrid makes it unsurprising that Real Madrid's first good chance (which was to result in the 0-1) came off a speedy counter-attack.
Benzema, the player furthest back since he was helping in defense during a Rayo corner, cleared the ball out of Iker Casillas’s penalty area to Marcelo who passed the ball, on the volley, to CR7 who released a speedy Di Maria (running out of position on the left wing for this move) who then squared to...Benzema – now the player furthest forward. Benzema scored with his first touch, having made an amazing and well-timed run in a diagonal line across the pitch.
A perfect counter-attack, lasting less than 10 seconds, highlighted Benzema’s speed and desire in getting forward.
In the 20th minute there was another counter, with Di Maria’s dipping and curling shot just a whisker wide of the post. And at 25 minutes , Luka Modrić's right-footed shot was blocked.
Madrid's defense was very poor. Arbeloa gave the ball away very cheaply and very often – at one point back-passing directly toward one of the Rayo forwards less than 5 meters from Casillas’s goal-mouth. Ramos managed to get a toe on the ball before he was able to score.
Arbeloa, when taking throws, threw the ball directly at Rayo's players, twice! It is possible that Rayo’s white jerseys may have been to blame for some of this confusion. Marcelo, quite brilliant in attack and linking up beautifully with Cristiano Ronaldo along the left, had an evening to forget at the back, and Ramos and Pepe looked shaky when they had the ball.
Mourinho's substitutions clearly were designed to make up for this weakness. For creativity he brought on Mesut Özil for Luka Modrić. For added security in the center, he brought on Sami Khedira. These moves were effective, with Rayo not able to break as effectively toward the end and with Özil creating some considerable danger on the edge of the penalty area.
Madrid had a goal mistakenly disallowed in the second half when Di Maria was fouled and the ball was cleared by the Rayo players toward the Madrid attack. The resulting goal was disallowed because the linesman incorrectly surmised that Di Maria had passed the ball to the players who were in an offside position.They had not - the ball had been passed back toward Karim Benzema, who finished beautifully.
In the 67th minute, a Rayo player handled in the box and Cristiano Ronaldo coolly slotted home the resulting penalty to make it 2-0. It was an absolutely correct, if somewhat harsh decision, as the player clearly blocked with his arm, but it was hard to tell if the incident was intentional.
The scoreline – Rayo Vallecano 0 Real Madrid 2 –never moved.
In the final moments of the match substitute Özil also had a good goal disallowed (Madrid’s second disallowed goal of the evening) for an incorrect offside call, and was then fouled with 30 seconds left in extra-time. The player who fouled him was sent off. Madrid played the final 40 seconds or so before the whistle blew, signifying the end of the match.
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