Instant Thoughts: Real Madrid v. Borussia Dortmund
There will be no Decima this year as Real Madrid’s furious late rally fell agonizingly short.
For me though, tonight’s outcome all comes back to the first 20 minutes. Madrid were magnificent. Yet a lack of composure in front of goal from Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil meant we had to wait till the last 10 minutes for the kind of drama that the neutral fan was craving.
It’s astonishing that the names above looked so flabbergasted in front of goal when all have stuck such chances away time after time again in high pressure situations.
Madrid’s dominance in the opening exchanges centered around its movement up top. Angel Di Maria and and Mesut Ozil were combing well down the right flank/channel.
On the other side, Ronaldo was doing a much better job of coming inside to look for the ball, rather than waiting for it to come to him before making his move towards the center.
CR7’s interchanging of positions with Higuain opened up the lanes for the midfielders to run through.
This lead to the chance for Ozil following Madrid’s best move of the game, but once again the finish went begging.
At this point Madrid fans had to have the sinking feeling that the hat-trick of misses would come back to haunt Los Blancos for a long time.
Dortmund, meanwhile, did well to weather the storm and looked dangerous on the counter attack. While the Germans didn’t get forward with the same numbers that pressed ahead at the Westfalenstadion, the supporting cast did well enough to push up and not allow huge gaps for Madrid to counter.
As Dortmund grew into the game, the visitors were able to condense the spaces further. In a recent interview with 11 Freunde, Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp explainedthat his 4-2-3-1 system should be so compact, “that there are only a maximum of 34 steps from Robert Lewandowski to [Matts] Hummels.”
While this was not the case in the first 25 minutes, the visitors eventually closed the spaces down. This in conjunction with the fact that Madrid was never going to be able to keep such a full head of steam for the 90 minutes changed the complexion of the game.
Xabi Alonso continued to be pushed back by Ilkay Gundogan meaning he couldn’t spearhead the attack or spray around his trademark long diagonal balls.
By my account he only had 1 in the first half, which was well of the mark. He was eventually subbed after an ineffectual 67 minutes.
At the same time Madrid’s supporting play began to dwindle. Ozil was no longer instantly on the scene to combine with Di Maria and each time a new Madrid player got the ball it seemed like it was a couple of seconds before a white shirt presented a short option.
This for me is one of Madrid’s biggest downfalls in Europe. So often in La Liga, Los Merengues are able to rely on individual brilliance. Yet, even the brightest of Los Galacticos’ stars have looked isolated at certain moments in the UEFA Champions League.
With the channels and wing play starting to dry up, Real Madrid began to run at the heart of Borussia Dortmund, but the spine of Die Schwarzgelben is made of stern stuff.
In the second half it was Dortmund’s turn to rue missed opportunities. As Madrid went in search of goals, there was always going to be space at the back that was ripe for exploitation.
The crossbar and Diego Lopez kept Real Madrid in the game.
The introduction of Karim Benzema (which at 57 minutes was still a bit too late for my taste) proved to be the catalyst for two late goals which set up a grandstand finale.
But despite the late drama, Real Madrid players and fans will look back to the first 20 minutes for years to come and wonder what might have been.