Complacent Madrid’s lucky escape

As the final whistle approached, the temptation grew to rewrite much of what had been for Barcelona’s defeat at Roma, with team names swapped. For the second night in succession a Spanish team had thrown away a three-goal advantage against a Serie A side. Again, the Italians showed desire, heart and tactical nous, the Spaniards anything but.

Yet in the same way the Champions League this season has kept us guessing, when we finally thought we know the script, Real Madrid tore it up. A 90th-minute penalty, however controversial, was tucked away with aplomb by Cristiano Ronaldo – forever the man for the big moment.

Buffon’s antics at the award of the spot kick and subsequent disparagement of match official Michael Oliver distracts from Madrid’s loss on the night. What happened to Barcelona should have served as a warning as to what Juventus were capable of, yet it appears they were not ready for Juve. They had to be prepared for a fast start from the visitors.

As Mario Mandzukic got Massimiliano Allegri’s side off the mark within 76 seconds, they clearly were not prepared. Without the leadership and defensive ability of Sergio Ramos, the Madrid back-line was in disarray.  With the captain suspended and Nacho Hernandez injured, 21-year-old Jesus Vallejo made his first Champions League appearance.

There was an obvious mismatch at right-back which proved the source of two goals. Twice 6’3 Mandzukic had the beating of 5’8 Dani Carvajal in the air. The first goal he left his man unmarked, the second he was out-jumped.

And while the diminutive Spaniard can’t grow seven inches, they can prevent those situations by stopping crosses from the left. All three of Juve’s goals came from crosses on this side and while Marcelo is not known for his defensive instincts, it was a leak Zidane should have plugged sooner.

At the very least Zizou was bold enough to make wholesale changes at the break when things weren’t clicking at the other end of the pitch but offensively they offered very little. In the words of Toni Kroos, Real “forgot to score” and it did not look they would remember to anytime soon from open play.

True, Isco was harshly judged offside for his disallowed goal and Varane’s header rattled the crossbar but Real were devoid of the attacking ruthlessness they had displayed in the competition to this point. For all of their deficiencies, Real did what they do best under Zidane: win.

No matter how ugly, latter or controversial, more often than not something or someone has dragged them through during his reign. A never say die attitude has carried them to Champions League titles in the past and may yet lead them to another this season.

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