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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 1 - 1 Tottenham

Real Madrid drop their first points of this season’s Champions League, against a very good Tottenham side

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Real Madrid dropped two points at the Bernabeu tonight against a very organized Tottenham side. An opening own-goal from Raphael Varane gave Tottenham the lead, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty levelled the score. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, post-game podcast.

This result is not going to make or break the season, but there was enough discomfort to ring alarm bells. Real Madrid got a very good version of Tottenham tonight. Pochettino’s scheme was compact, tight-knit, organized, and dangerous on the counter. Even some of Real Madrid’s better chances in this game — Cristiano shooting just wide in a tight space in the first half, Isco manoeuvring in tight space to get a point-blank shot which Lloris saved — were duly closed down.

There were good moments, to be sure, and Real Madrid did carve themselves some good chances in this game — but it was laboured. What didn’t help: Karim Benzema having a really bad game offensively (apart from one great moment in the box to set-up Toni Kroos which led to the penalty that Ronaldo converted), the crossing from Marcelo, Achraf, and Isco being wildly off the mark, Achraf getting baptized by Jan Vertonghen (I love Achraf just as much as the next, but this game wasn’t a great spot for him. He did some good, like having a key interception in the 57th minute, and playing in a really nice one-timed cross early in the game; but he consistently had poor touches, and couldn’t get past his man on the right flank no matter how much he tried), and Tottenham playing a near-perfect game defensively.

Achraf, to be fair, played very high up the pitch and was the sole presence on the right flank; while Marcelo had a lot of help from Isco on the left. Asensio (who came on for Benzema in the second half) would’ve helped earlier in a game like this, to roam around and help break down Spurs’ defense, and act as another outlet and creator from both sides of the field.

Real Madrid dominated possession, which didn’t seem to unnerve Tottenham, who were very dangerous on the counter. One thing I noted was the amount of defensive gambles Real Madrid took leading to Raphael Varane’s own-goal (surprise! More near-post trouble!). They stepped up needlessly without coverage behind them twice, and it hit them hard. It could’ve hit them even harder, too, as Real Madrid’s failed coverage for men pushing forward left them very vulnerable at the back. Luckily, Keylor Navas came up big on more than one occasion.

A couple more things from my notebook:

  • Two points were lost on poor crossing, poor defensive coverage, and missed chances
  • Keylor Navas was huge
  • Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric both had great games. I thought Ronaldo was unlucky not to score from open play, and got himself into some great scoring opportunities. Big game from him. Modric, meanwhile, was excellent — key interceptions, hunting down players, incisive passing, etc.
  • The flank play has been poor this season. Marcelo didn’t have space to work with, to be fair, but his crossing (like pretty well any other player) lacked quality. It is interesting to note that Tottenham almost entirely ignored the right flank, letting Achraf have a bit more space, while shifting their attention to Isco and Marcelo on the left. Nevertheless, Vertonghen dealt with Achraf really well.

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