Matchday 2: Villarreal 0-5 Real Madrid

This match refers to an older Villareal-Madrid game. Visit the most recent Real Madrid v Villareal match page.

Real Madrid travelled to El Madrigal to face the form team of 2007, Villarreal, who had not lost in their previous 18 official matches and had just come from an opening season 0-3 victory against Valencia. Most pundits expected a good match, with no clear favorite, including Schuster’s new project being put to the test by a very solid side. This happened for 38 minutes.

Villarreal started brightly with good movement, creating chances that while not extremely dangerous, forced Iker Casillas to have some early involvement in the match. Madrid slowly entered the fray and in the 14′ Robinho hit the post on a Madrid counter. As the pace of the match slowed chances became fewer and farther between until Sneijder looked up from the left side of the pitch and found Raul with a 30 meter pass over the head of Cygan. All that needed doing was Raul to stick out his foot and it was 0-1.

In the second half Villarreal again started well, causing problems, and Tomasson had a good shot deflected away by Casillas. But almost immediately, Madrid won a free kick near the Villarreal area and Sneijder scored the second goal of the evening with a perfectly executed free kick, which Villarreal keeper Sebastian Viera could do nothing to stop. This goal seemed to leave Villarreal a bit groggy, and 2 minutes later a sweeping counterattack ended with a Sergio Ramos pass to Van Nistelrooy, who, with his customary cold blood, calmly picked his spot for the 3rd goal.

At this point the match was effectively over, and Villarreal became a team split in two, with 5 defending and 5 attacking. Two more goals came from well-executed counterattacks courtesy of Sneijder and Guti.

Perhaps the 0-5 result was a bit unfair to Villarreal, as they did not play poorly, and in fact Rossi had a standout game, always looking dangerous with his movement and insightful passing. But the few times they were able to get themselves in dangerous goalscoring territory the Madrid defense was there to block them, with both Metzelder and Cannavaro having very good displays. Cannavaro in particular everyday looks more and more like the player we saw in WC2006.

Madrid suffered, and Villarreal found its best way forward, via the right flank, where Drenthe again looked extremely uncomfortable at left back. In the 60th minute Schuster gave Heinze his debut as he went on in place of Raul, with Drenthe moving to midfield, where he seems a completely different player. Heinze also looked solid, and what was seen as a lack of pace in England may not hamper him as much in the more paused game that is played in La Liga.

Other good performances were put in by Guti, whose distribution was fundamental for the speed with which Madrid mounted its attacks. Last season Guti was the only transitional element in the Madrid midfield, and (as often happened) when other sides easily identified him as Madrid’s sole creative outlet, he would spend as much time on the ground from the constant stream of fouls as he would directing Madrid’s play. This then left Madrid with only two options for scoring goals: the long ball, taking the midfield out of the equation, or dead-ball situations, where Madrid excelled. This season Guti has a new partner in the creation and the benefits of his new found freedom are already being felt.

Which brings me the yesterday’s man of the match, Wesley Sneijder. 2 goals, the pass that set up Raul’s opener, skill on the ball, vision and distribution, ball recovery, excellent movement and dead-ball delivery – the press today is singing his praises, while simultaneously lambasting Valencia’s Quique Sanchez Flores for rejecting the chance to sign him for 15m euros earlier in the summer. He has been a very positive surprise, the closest thing many here have seen to a truly “complete” midfielder in a long time.

Many questions still remain, however; what will happen once Robben is fit? Metzelder has looked impressive in the 135′ he’s played so far – what will happen to Pepe? And most importantly, what will Madrid do once teams stop trying to control the ball? So far, Madrid has simply been playing a much improved version of what Capello did last season. 8 of the 11 starters were players Capello had. The main difference so far, is the replacement of Sneijder for Emerson, giving the team a much more offensive profile, but sooner or later teams will simply put 9 men behind the ball when they play Madrid, and the onus on creation and posession will be a good test of Madrid’s title credentials this season. Credentials which so far are even drawing praise from the Catalan sports papers.

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