Real Madrid defeated Everton 2-1 in the semifinals of the 2013 Guinness International Champions Cup on Saturday evening at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The victory earns the Spanish side a place in the final of the preseason tournament in Miami, Florida on August 7th, where Madrid will face the winner of the match between AC Milan and Chelsea on August 4th.
First half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Özil were enough to see off Everton's challenge in the second half after the Merengues made numerous changes.
Carlo Ancelotti named a strong starting XI for the match, bringing in a number of the established internationals newly returned from their extended summer vacations. Madrid lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Marcelo, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Arbeloa at the back, Modric and Khedira anchoring the midfield, and Mesut Özil, Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo playing fluidly behind Karim Benzema.
Madrid started brightly, moving the ball well and taking advantage time and time again of Everton's at times almost suicidally high defensive line. In the 17th minute, Özil played a long slotted ball through the Everton defense, finding Ronaldo, who took a long first touch, rounded the goalkeeper Tim Howard, and elegantly turned the ball into the net to put the Merengues 1-0 up. Howard, who was otherwise excellent on the night, may have been caught of two minds, straying too far from his line without closing down the player with the ball.
While Madrid continued to pass the ball well and make dangerous attacks after the goal, Everton often looked dangerous down the flanks and from set pieces. In the 23rd minute, Khedira executed a horrendous slide tackle at the very edge of the left side of the box, coming within inches of conceding a penalty and giving away a potentially dangerous free kick, which came to nothing. Just two minutes later, however, a curling Everton corner was thundered against the post by Manchester United target Marouane Fellaini's powerful header. Madrid counterattacked quickly, with Ronaldo finding himself alone on the left side of the 18 yard box, but his low cross was cut out by the keeper.
In the 30th minute, almost the same series of events repeated themselves. This time, Everton's corner was headed into the net, but the referee disallowed the goal for a foul on Sami Khedira. An Everton player was judged to have put his arm across Khedira during his jump, although contact appeared to be minimal. Real Madrid seized on Everton's confusion and broke quickly. Luka Modric exposed the Premier League side's high line yet again with a superb clipped through ball to find Ronaldo alone against the keeper on the left side of the box. The Portuguese superstar unselfishly squared to Özil who tapped the ball into the net to make it 2-0.
The second half brought a slew of substitutions for both clubs. Madrid made six changes, bringing on Diego López, Dani Carvajal, Fabio Coentrão, Nacho, Casemiro and Ángel di María for Casillas, Arbeloa, Marcelo, Ramos, Modric and Isco respectively. This new-look side was noticeably less fluid, less assured in defense, and less able to retain possession successfully, although this was partially due to a resurgence of Everton's pressing game in the second half.
In the 60th minute, after taking a minor knock, Ronaldo asked to be substituted and youngster Jesé was brought on in his place. Without Ronaldo's aggression and threat pinning back Everton's dangerous flanks, including the lethal Leighton Baines, the English side began to make more troubling sorties down the wings. Just one minute after Ronaldo's substitution, Everton reduced the deficit to 2-1 after a few defensive errors. Confusion between Coentrão and his center-back on a counterattack resulted in space down the Madrid left. An unmarked Stephen Naismith headed back across goal to find Nikica Jelavic, who volleyed in despite López getting a hand to the shot.
After the goal, the Merengues began to pick up the pace, but the game became very choppy and disjointed, with frequent turnovers of the ball. In the 71st minute, Benzema left the field for Kaká, leaving Madrid without a recognized striker on the pitch. With Madrid stymied at one end, Everton continued to make trouble with set pieces and movement down the wings at the other.
In the 77th minute, Carvajal conceded his second handball just outside the box in the space of five minutes. Had the game not been a preseason friendly, he would have been running a significant risk of receiving a red card, but as it was he merely gifted Everton a superb opportunity for an equalizer. Baines took the free kick just outside the righthand edge of the box , and Phil Jagielka got in front of his defender only to head over the bar. The Merseysiders had a penalty shout turned down five minutes later off of a corner, as the player was already falling, but these situations continued to prove difficult for the Madrid defense.
Madrid continued to create decent opportunities, but with no one making good runs in the box, particularly after Özil's removal in the 85th minute for Denis Cheryshev, these mostly came to nothing. Howard was forced to make several good saves from di María and Jesé among others, with Kaká setting up a few good chances for his teammates. After Everton removed Baines late on, the English side's threat was greatly reduced and Madrid were able to comfortably see out the game at 2-1.
Madrid's win sets up a tantalizing matchup with either former manager José Mourinho's Chelsea team or Ancelotti's old club Milan in the final of the tournament.
Real Madrid continue their reasonably successful run in preseason, having won against Bournemouth, PSG and LA Galaxy and drawn against Lyon, but conclusions are hard to draw from preseason friendlies, especially with Madrid's team far from settled: three potential starters in Varane, Illarramendi and Alonso are recovering from injury, while others have just returned from vacation and still others may yet arrive or leave in the transfer window. As Coentrão and di María played 45 minutes each, it seems unlikely that the club intend to let them go, as a player the club is negotiating to sell typically does not take part in friendlies for fear of injury scuppering a deal.
Álvaro Morata's absence, however, despite Benzema leaving the pitch late on, could mean he may be on his way to Tottenham as part of a Gareth Bale deal, as has been reported. As this would leave the team with just one recognized striker, even if a buyback clause is inserted to protect Madrid's investment, this may well remain in the realm of speculation.