Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid showed character and determination in overturning a 1-0 deficit in Turin to take the lead against a dangerous looking Juventus side on Tuesday night and, despite the Old Lady hitting back to share the points, it was in the end a point gained rather than two lost for Madrid.
Los Blancos sent Juventus away empty-handed when the two sides met at the Santiago Bernabeu two weeks ago but, on the strength of their performance in a first-half dominated by the Italians in the return, a draw was ultimately a fair result, even if it leaves some persisting questions about Madrid’s ability to deliver against quality opponents.
Ancelotti’s men have stumbled against arguably their strongest adversaries so far this season, losing 1-0 at home to Atletico Madrid, falling 2-1 against Barcelona and now failing to cement qualification against Juventus. They have also been unconvincing against teams they were expected to beat comfortably, grabbing a late decider to defeat Levante 3-2 and hanging on for a similar result at Rayo Vallecano last weekend.
Results and performances in recent weeks have led many to speculate whether Ancelotti knows what his best starting XI is, or that he is under pressure from the Bernabeu hierarchy to field some players in preference over others. Isco Alarcon has been marginalised despite his early season form, with Gareth Bale preferred in attacking midfield. The Welshman is beginning to justify his price tag, but to the detriment of the former Malaga playmaker.
Juventus allowed Madrid plenty of possession, particularly in the first half, but the Spanish side were unable to do much with it. Juve kept Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema quiet until the enigmatic French striker pounced on a mistake from Martin Caceres early in the second half to set up the Portuguese for his 21st goal in 16 games in all competitions this season.
There were clear signs of defensive naivety against Juventus, with Pepe and Raphael Varane an unlikely central pairing and Sergio Ramos mysteriously shifted to right-back. Varane was palpably at fault for conceding the penalty from which Arturo Vidal gave Juve the lead, and was culpable once more for Fernando Llorente’s equaliser.
Perhaps one of the biggest conundrums facing Ancelotti is the future of Iker Casillas. Ostracised last season by Jose Mourinho and for so long a forlorn-looking outsider in the current campaign, the captain kept his side in the contest, making half a dozen saves in the first half alone, including two outstanding ones to deny Claudio Marchisio and another to prevent an own goal by Pepe. Casillas dived the right way for Vidal’s penalty but there was little he could do to keep either it out, likewise with Llorente’s later effort.
Barring a catastrophe, Real Madrid will advance to the Last 16, where they will face further challenges. Ancelotti has any number of match-winning individuals at his disposal, but still needs to fashion his best match-winning team.