Real Madrid secured the top sot in their group with a 1-0 away win at Basel that was anything, but easy. We take a look at the highlights, analysis and reactions from the game.
Carlo Ancelotti made 4 changes to the side that faced Eibar in La Liga on Saturday by (surprisingly) starting Navas instead of Casillas, using Arbeloa and Coentrao instead of Marcelo and Carvajal, and finally using Varane in Pepe’s place.
I believe all but one of these changes were made out of necessity as Real Madrid’s first fullbacks have played a tremendous amount of games recently and with a trip away to Malaga in a couple of days, rest was important.
On top of that Ancelotti mentioned that Pepe is tackling a small injury (nothing serious) and so Varane was used in his place. Finally Navas was between the sticks as Ancelotti provides the Costa Rican yet another opportunity to prove himself in a match where the stakes are not relatively high.
Through out the match you got the impression that Real Madrid never truly got out of 3rd gear, they played smartly and killed the home team’s preliminary rush and took control of the proceedings of the game.
It seemed that the objective was not only to win, but to win while using as little energy as possible with a big game coming up on Saturday. As a matter of fact the second half saw Real Madrid actually sitting back and defending in a 4-4-2 while using counter attacks to try to kill off the game.
And while nobody’s doubting the importance of a win here seeing the historical implications, Carlo Ancelotti (and Real Madrid as a whole) surely must’ve been focusing on the oncoming trip to La Rosaleda. However, such is Real Madrid’s current form that never leaving 3rd gear was still enough to beat a Swiss side that has been in excellent form prior to this match (6 matches without a defeat).
Real Madrid had to wait over half an hour to get their first goal of the night as Basel stayed compact at the back and showed the defensive acumen that lead to them conceding just once in their last 5 matches (before this one). That was perhaps why Real Madrid tried their luck with long-range attempts on goal throughout the match trying to find some way through the crowded Basel defence.
However Real madrid finally got the lead they deserved through Cristiano Ronaldo who finished an exquisite move from Karim Benzema. From that point on you could see Real Madrid revert to the defend-and-counter mode as the attempts to conserve energy and more importantly avoid injury where at their highest.
Ultimately Real Madrid had the more clear cut chances with 2 shots hitting the crossbar/post while Basel had their very own chance that was fantastically saved by Keylor Navas. Other than that, the swiss side did little else to bother the Costa Rican keeper as he rolled on to keep his very first clean sheet with the reigning European champions.
What A Difference Fullbacks Can Make
Nothing was more evident than the absence of Real Madrid’s first-choice fullbacks; Dani Carvajal and Marcelo. Their replacements, Arbeloa and Coentrao, failed to put on a display that would make them even the slightest bit of challenge to Dani and Marcelo’s starting spots.
Coentrao could be forgiven a bit considering how he just came back from an injury (while that doesn’t excuse his rash tackles) but Arbeloa in particular made a mess of the opportunity handed to him in Basel. He lacked positioning prowess, and made terrible decisions in committing forward or tracking back.
He often left his right side completely exposed which explains why Basel targeted their left side and had some success with it as well. Arbeloa made just 1 clearance compared to the 8 (Varane), 5 (Ramos), and 9 (Coentrao) that his other fellow defenders made. He also finished the least amount of passes (32) compared to Real Madrid’s other defenders. It is evident that at this point and time, Nacho is a more reliable back-up option to Carvajal as Arbeloa has some major major work to be done if he has hopes of ever seriously challenging Carvajal for that starting place.
Man of the Match: Isco
Isco put in perhaps his best display this season with the type of work-rate that puts even the top central midfielders to shame. His tireless work on and, most importantly, off the ball was a sight to behold. His pressing game has developed to new heights that even the most optimistic Madridistas couldn’t have imagined when Real Madrid signed him last season.
He was often seen filling in the gap left by the advancing fullbacks on either side and he did not just hold up Basel’s counter attacks, he stopped them completely. Also, and probably most pleasing to Ancelotti, his partnership with Toni Kroos seems to be going as smoothly as the Italian coach has hoped with their intricate passes being spot on and used to maximum efficiency to keep possession when Basel pushed forward in numbers. If Isco keeps up his current form he might just be a serious threat to Luka Modric’s place when the Croatian returns from injury in a few months.