One of my first posts on this site was a recap of a 0-1 Real victory at Rayo in early 2012. I wrote then that the ugly, grind-it-out victory was of the kind that earned clubs championships. Yesterday's match and result had an eerily similar feel. Cordoba carried the play for significant stretches of the first half, putting in a dogged, tireless shift throughout the contest. Miroslav Dukic's men should be commended for their approach. Yet despite uncharacteristically poor performances from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo and others--Los Blancos displayed the resolve and mental toughness of Champions, scraping their way back into the match on the backs of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. Madrid never blinked during a tense, hard-fought affair in front of rabid, delirious support enjoying their first visit from the Royal Whites in over 40 years. Ronaldo's mental lapse in the 83rd minute, an error born from frustration on this exceedingly rare occasion wherein the Portuguese inter-galactico was unable to effortlessly put his stamp on the match, seemed to consign Real to a draw and two crucially lost points. However Bale, Benzema and Jese kept pouring forward, creating opportunities and ultimately a penalty which Bale coolly dispatched to secure the victory. It was as bland, unspectacular and dishwater grey as a match can be. It'll probably be forgotten in short order. Yet its importance in May could possibly prove decisive.
Cristiano Ronaldo is easy to take for granted, even when you constantly remind yourself that you're watching special, once-in-a-generation (perhaps once-in-a-lifetime) excellence. He often seems like a machine impervious to age, attrition and rust. Most Madridistas have hushed hypothetical nightmare reveries where the unthinkable is pondered: What would we do without him? Yesterday we were given a very brief glimpse of that as CR7 struggled through possibly his poorest game in a Madrid kit. The team was literally without him for the final 10 minutes and his absence seemed to elevate the already excellent Karim Benzema and the frenzied, whirlwind known as Gareth Bale. It's hard to say that those two men are overshadowed as they are both globally renown superstars in their own right, but without Ronaldo they seized the initiative and harnessed the full measure of their brilliance to secure a victory that appeared very improbable. As great as Cristiano Ronaldo is, yesterday served as a reminder to any doubters that this Los Blancos team is far more than a one man show. There are match-winners in white shirts strewn about everywhere and its comforting to be reminded of that on the rare days Superman stumbles.
Highline to Hell
Real seemed to be playing with an uncharacteristically high defensive line, particularly in the opening 45 minutes. This was eye-opening and extremely ill-advised, with Marcelo getting victimized multiple times on counters and breaks. Had Cordoba been able to exploit these openings more efficiently the result would likely look a lot different this morning. Fabio Coentrao stabilized the back four when introduced for the sputtering Brazilian and Madrid were then able to make necessary adjustments in their marking and positioning. It was a confusing, muddled beginning though, that we should all hope was simply an aberration and not a trend.