Real Madrid vs Sevilla

Real Madrid bounced back from their surprise defeat away to Granada last weekend with an emphatic 4-1 home win over an insipid Sevilla side. Whether Mourinho would have preferred a more testing game prior to the Champions League clash with Man Utd is a worthwhile consideration.

Mourinho made a number of changes to the side ahead of the European encounter with Man Utd. Alonso and Varane were rested as they continue to nurse minor injuries. Ozil and Khedira were on the bench providing a rare start for Kaka ahead of a midfield pairing of Essien and Modric.

This should have been a challenge for Madrid. With one eye on the Man Utd game and with the league effectively gone, this would be Sevilla’s chance to complete a league double. Instead, the Andalusian’s failed to grasp that opportunity. Theirs was an insipid performance, defending meekly and offering little in attack.

Questions persist for Madrid around midfield where Essien looks limited with his poor mobility being a problem. Modric, meanwhile, is still unable to grasp a game and dictate it. It’s why on Wednesday evening Alonso, Khedira and Ozil will all start for los blancos.

The opening goal from Benzema saw Coke and Fazio appeal for offside with Navarro and Spahic both in deeper positions behind them. A low cross ricocheted off Navarro leaving Benzema with a tap in. Fazio produced a piece of awful defending to enable Ronaldo to score their third goal, allowing the ball to bounce and then pass him.

The concession of poor goals hindering them, Manu’s fine late goal was of scant consolation.

Despite the importance of the game midweek, Ronaldo was not rested. There was something inevitable about his performance, a reminder of his importance to the team.

Ronaldo Produces Again

Is there anything left to say about Ronaldo? His only misfortune is to operate in the same era as Leo Messi otherwise he would surely be considered the best player in the world on a regular basis.

At a time when Madrid are not playing at their best and their team performances have been patchy, Ronaldo remains a constant thorn to opponents, his ability to create chances from virtually nothing.

Ronaldo Shots vs Sevilla

Ronaldo Shots vs Sevilla                            http://www.squawka.com

The Portuguese secured his 20th hat trick for los blancos, his third against Sevilla. The graphic above shows his skill in producing shots from a host of positions. Provide him with space from a distance of up to 30 yards, and he will shoot at goal.

His opening goal was a superb long range strike from the corner of the penalty area. Maduro offered a lamentable attempt at a tackle which Ronaldo sidestepped easily before curling the ball into the far corner of the net.

His second goal owed much to the comical defending of Fazio to help create the chance before Ronaldo finished well.

The final goal was the obligatory counter attack. No Madrid game seems complete without an opponent conceding a goal from a lighting quick counter attack. It arrived in the 58th minute when Kaka conceded a foul in the left back area. The resultant free kick was whipped in but quickly cleared with Ronaldo collecting possession on the edge of the penalty area. Nine seconds later, he had his hat trick and Madrid’s fourth goal.

This quality to turn your opponents strength into their weakness during transitions has always been a key feature of Mourinho’s teams but none have managed to perfect it like Madrid. It enables Madrid to sit deep and defend, playing in quite a one dimensional fashion at times, reliant upon the attack led by Ronaldo to deliver.

The Madrid faithful were able to rest easily when Ronaldo departed after 62 minutes, free from injury and his work, and his side’s, complete.

Kaka

The Brazilian enjoyed a rare start and took advantage with a solid display marked not only by his attacking craft but also a willingness to undertake defensive duties.

Kaka made 26 successful passes from his 29 attempted but his tackling statistics were just as impressive with four successful tackles from five attempted tackles across the whole pitch.

Kaka Tackles vs Sevilla

Kaka Tackles vs Sevilla                                 http://www.squawka.com

Kaka displayed his desire to complete defensive work when he tracked and fouled Jesus Navas deep on the Madrid left earning himself a caution in the process.

Whilst he will never be a starter under Mourinho and most likely requires to move elsewhere to kickstart his faltering career,this performance showed that he still has much to offer and contribute to a team. On Wednesday night, Kaka will return to the bench for Madrid.

Sevilla Midfield – Geoffrey Kondogbia

With Rakitic suspended due to his appeal failing, Emery was forced to turn to Reyes on the left of the midfield. The Croatian has provided a key element for Sevilla this season offering support to the attack and tucking into the midfield as necessary to solidify the team. For Reyes, the former Arsenal player produced a performance similar to those that have blighted his career. He offered little going forward whilst providing scant defensive cover for Navarro behind him. His performance was a contrast to that of Navas on the right. The winger offered Sevilla their main attacking outlet whilst displaying a willingness to track back and provide defensive cover.

One of the few other positive performances from a Sevilla perspective was that of Kondogbia. Whilst not his best game by some distance, the 19 year old Frenchman provided further proof of his growing reputation with a solid game.

With his power and physique, Kondogbia is fast becoming an important asset for the Sevilla midfield. Having arrived from Lens in France, comparisons with a previous central midfielder acquired from the French side are inevitable; Seydou Keita. And there is reason for the comparisons as Kondogbia is showing signs of maturing into a fine central midfielder. Despite only making one successful tackle and one successful interception, his ability to drive forward with the ball was in evidence particularly in the central area of the pitch.

Kondogbia Take Ons vs Real Madrid

Kondogbia Take Ons vs Real Madrid      http://www.squawka.com

As Kondogbia develops both physically and mentally, his role within the team is likely to develop. At the moment, he is often substituted in the second half as he fades and he left the Bernabeu after 77 minutes.

Conclusions

Madrid have now gone 33 home games without defeat in all competitions, their last defeat at home being to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi final last season. It’s a record which they will need to ensure remains intact midweek when they welcome Man Utd to the Bernabeu in the Champions League.

The recent improvement in form for Sevilla under Emery ends with a thud. With two wins and one draw in his three Liga games to date, Sevilla should have arrived in Madrid with confidence but they surrendered meekly. Sevilla now have recorded just one away win in La Liga from 12 attempts this season. If they wish to move away from mid table, it’s an area which they have to address quickly. The manner of the defeat will concern Emery with individual errors in addition to collective errors. For a manager who prides himself upon the strength of the unit, that will disappoint Emery.

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Real Madrid vs Dortmund

An excellent and hard fought 2-2 draw was played out at Santiago Bernabeu between the reigning Spanish and German Champions. This was the much clichéd game of two half’s with Dortmund being in the ascendency during the opening period of the game before Madrid took control and completely dominated the second half.

The game started at a very high tempo particularly by Madrid who made a number of early attempts to get in behind the high Dortmund defence with long diagonal passes. When the game began to settle down around the 10th minute, a number of issues were becoming more prevalent.

Real Madrid Defence

Dortmund were using Lewandowski as a central target to play off, exploiting the space between the Madrid defence and midfield on fast transitions. Twice in the opening stages, Dortmund moved down their left on quick breaks with Casillas saving from Schmelzer in the 8th minute

It was notable how Di Maria temporarily adopted a slightly deeper defensive position on the right, aware of the problems which Ramos was encountering in the right back position.

Without Khedira alongside him, Alonso was being pressed and playing slightly higher providing the gap between defence and midfield which Dortmund were aiming to exploit with forward running from the midfield area.

The opening goal was an example of confusion in the Madrid defence and space behind the full backs.

Following a period of possession by Dortmund, the ball was moved backwards before a long ball was aimed towards Lewandowski who had pulled onto Varane. Pepe moved from left centre back to challenge but lost out to the Pole who flicked the ball onto the forward moving Reus who had ran off Arbeloa. Had Pepe not moved across, he would have been in position to challenge Reus.

The second Dortmund goal again exploited space behind the full back, this occasion it was on the left and behind Ramos. Again, a long ball was won in the air by Lewandowski and Grosskreutz moved into space behind Ramos before passing through to Gotze. Arbeloa unfortunately made the final touch, prodding the ball beyond Casillas.

By contrast, Dortmund were holding a high line with the midfield sitting just in front, preventing any space from developing between the lines and reducing the impact of Ozil. With coordinated pressing when Madrid reached the halfway line, the defence could push high. Madrid contributed to their own downfall by becoming too vertical and playing too many forward passes.

The one significant defensive error which Dortmund committed in the first half enabled Pepe to score the first equalising goal. The Germans failing to clear a corner adequately and Pepe powerfully headed home from the second cross.

Tempo

The fast tempo of the game with the emphasis on transitions suited Dortmund who were able to press Madrid aggressively and play on the counter attack. Dortmund are well known for playing a high energy style of football with a young team capable of sustaining such an approach for the full duration of a game.

With aggressive pressing and Madrid playing directly, Dortmund were able to maintain their high defensive line. Madrid needed to slow the game down and force their style of play onto the Bundesliga Champions. By constructing moves patiently, Madrid would be able to force Dortmund deeper.

Taking that into consideration, the starting line up from Madrid was perhaps slightly unexpected. With Dortmund bringing a physical game in terms of effort, it would surely have made more sense for Mourinho to begin the game with Essien supporting Alonso in a deep midfield role?

Essien is not renowned for quick passing either and would have slowed the tempo of the game.

Khedira Out – The Modric or Essien Dilemma

The changes which Mourinho made at half time were somewhat inevitable. Higuain was withdrawn even though he should have been removed much earlier when it became apparent that a hamstring injury had rendered him ineffective, reducing his mobility considerably. Callejon immediately offered more movement than Higuain.

The second change saw Essien replace Modric and slot into central midfield. This switch should arguably have been undertaken in the original team selection.

These changes allowed Madrid to completely dominate their opponents.

Modric has the potential to be a fine player for Madrid. Intelligent, creative and with a great range of passing, he will progress to become an asset. At this stage of his Madrid career, there are still, understandably, teething issues. Despite having a high pass completion rate of 87% (completing 33 from 38 passes) during his 45 minutes on the pitch, Modric may need to temper his tendency to seek forward passes. Arriving from the Premiership were the pace of the game is greater and much more vertical, a slight adjustment in style is needed to strike a balance between a vertical approach and more lateral passing to stretch opponents.

This is what Essien offered in the second half. With a pass completion rate of 83% (30 passes from 36 completed), the Ghanian was more content to slow the game down and stretch Dortmund with lateral passing.

Slower passing enable Madrid to move up the pitch as a unit and combined with the increased movement from Callejon, this forced Dortmund further back. The graphics below show Dortmund’s back four becoming tighter and the midfield moving closer together as they defended more.

Dortmund Average Positions 1st Half http://www.uefa.com

Dortmund Average Positions 2nd Half http://www.uefa.com

One slight concern for Madrid though was how narrow they became at times with Callejon and Di Maria cutting in from the left and right respectively. The width had to arrive from full back but Arbeloa is a naturally conservative full back and the marauding runs of Ramos were curtailed by the events of the first half.

Despite Madrid dominating possession, the equalising goal almost never arrived. In the 89th minute Ozil scored a lovely goal from a free kick to draw the game level. Questions may be asked over Weidenfeller as he appeared cumbersome as he moved across towards the ball. The free kick was positioned perfectly in the corner but the precision came at the cost of pace. The outcome was entirely deserved and a reward was the more patient probing which Madrid showed during the second half.

The result leaves the group delicately poised. Dortmund now have a home game against Ajax whilst Madrid travel to the Etihad to face Man City in a game which both teams need points for differing reasons.Madrid have the safety of their final group game being at home against Ajax should there be an upset at the Etihad. And that is what it would be if Man City somehow managed to overcome Madrid.

Madrid will quality from the group but perhaps not in 1st position which could lead to a more awkward opponent in the last 16 of the competition. Mourinho would quickly point out however, that on the two occasions he has led teams to Champions League success, they finished second in the group stage.