A glance at the Real Madrid teamsheet ahead of Tuesday night’s final group stage match at Parken Stadium would have had any opposition Coach quaking with fear. A midfield of Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Isco would surely run the game, creating more than sufficient chances for a front three comprising Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale behind Karim Benzema to attack and score at will.
While Carlo Ancelotti’s men ran out comfortable winners, however, they displayed a surprisingly cautious approach early on against the gallant Danish underdogs, emerging with a routine yet almost modest victory against opponents who were resilient but, ultimately, outclassed. The win ensured Los Blancos finished top of Group B with five wins from their six matches.
Fittingly, Ronaldo stamped his mark on the game in headline fashion with a record ninth goal in this season’s group stage. He could even have made it 10, but for a badly missed spot-kick late on. Having been rested for Madrid’s 4-0 win over Real Valladolid in La Liga, and then suspended for last weekend’s Copa del Rey draw against Olimpic Xativa, the Portuguese returned to make an impact in the only way he knows. On a night of records, Madrid, nine times European champions, set a further all-time record in European competition by netting in 31 successive matches.
Pepe was the supplier of Ronaldo’s record-breaking goal, heading on Marcelo’s cross for the 28-year-old to make no mistake from close range. It was Modric, however, who was the architect of Madrid’s performance, and of the win. The scorer of Los Blancos opening goal in the first half, a wonderful solo effort, Modric has been an increasingly influential figure in Ancelotti’s side.
The Coach has surprised many by playing the Croatian international alongside Isco in midfield, in addition to the returning Xabi Alonso, who was playing his 200th game for Real Madrid against Copenhagen, leaving no room for the excellent Angel di Maria. Modric has become pivotal in the midfield, linking well with both Isco and the experienced Alonso, as well as with former Tottenham teammate Gareth Bale in attack.
Madrid eventually manoeuvred themselves into a position of dominance, both in possession and in chances created, and it was Ronaldo who threatened to extend their lead in a way that would have more accurately mirrored their superiority. Instead, it remained in many ways an understated performance by Ancelotti’s men, consummately efficient and professional, but contained and without too much excess.
Ancelotti may well have felt justified in such a measured approach, knowing it would be enough to get the job done, while conserving effort for the return to La Liga action at the weekend. It is an approach that could pay handsome dividends as the competition inevitably becomes more fierce, with only quality opposition remaining in the Last 16.