Real Madrid assured their qualification to the next phase of the Champions League with an emphatic 9 - 2 aggregate victory over Schalke. The Germans were taken apart and dispatched by an efficient Los Merengues that put on display phenomenal attacking prowess. The terrifying trio of Benzema, Bale, and Ronaldo thrived in the incredible openness of the tie and exploited vast uncontrolled spaces to great success.
The subdued effort from the Gelsenkirchen outfit perhaps altered perceptions of Madrid's form. Their ‘defeatist' play didn't provide a suitable test to gauge the level of the current Spanish league toppers.
The draw for the quarterfinal match-ups took place earlier today at Nyon, Switzerland. Unlike R16, there were no limitations and it was possible for any two clubs to face each other. The selections were made from an elite pool consisting of PSG, Chelsea, Barcelona, Madrid, Atlético, Dortmund, and United - all group leaders. We drew BVB setting up a re-match of last year's semifinal.
Of the above listed eight, there are legitimate calls for six to lift the trophy while every one of them - granted with the added factor of cosmic favor for some - is capable of pushing their opposition to the limit.
Many are singling out the Red Devils as the weakest of the bunch in light of the fact that a tumultuous coaching transition and executive and tactical mismanagement at Old Trafford have exacerbated squad quality issues that can be easily exposed.
However, if not sufficiently convinced by ‘unexpected' past European cup triumphs (recently Chelsea in 2012), it should be noted that a 13 (maximum number of CL matches) game stretch is too small a sample - even in a football context - and does not always perfectly equalize for the true superiority of competitors. Essentially, statistically speaking, bursts and spurts of above/below norm performance can be much more influential than the net actualizable value of base (core) strengths and weaknesses.
Quick Note on Team
This version of Los Blancos is quite formidable and a serious threat to any side: there is an enviable evenness across the park from defense to offense. Building on the back of a 30+ game undefeated streak, Ancelotti's men have found firm footing in a cohesive mechanical 4-3-3 system that is significantly reaping the benefits of individual skills.
In spite of this progress, there are still clear gaps from the ideal state. Though perfection is not attainable, opportunities to get closer to that ultimate equilibrium can be pursued like below:
- Maintaining a tighter compact shape off the ball will enhance defensive solidity
- Improving dynamism (i.e. movement) in gameplay will more effectively open up passing lanes and channels facilitating ball ‘cycling'
- Further sharpening our shooting efficaciousness to maximize returns from the team's luxurious outputs will provide an added edge
- Increasing rotation will keep the squad fresh especially with consideration for Jesé's ACL injury (Animo 'Big Flow') adding to the existing sidelined list
These are simply a few key examples and there are undoubtedly numerous other areas (not necessarily as important) that can be optimized.
Overall, the noted underdeveloped spots aren't impediments that should completely disrupt our setup in difficult matches. The nine time winners have enough to bet on and are in a position to dictate games against the very best.
Step by Step
Heading into the business end of affairs, it is critical that Real Madrid take a measured approach to the hurdles along the challenging path to La Decima. Ancelotti has made as much clear in the press room stressing the importance of focusing on the present moment.
Reaffirming domestic supremacy and extending the lead in La Liga by defeating - as mostly expected - the Catalonians at the Bernabeu is the next chapter in the story. Freeing itself from the pressure of a close title run-in will allow the organization to redirect its full attention to the intensifying continental campaign.