Tottenham Hotspur had a dream run in this year’s UEFA Champions League. Their journey was straight out of fairy tales. Some dazzling performances, spectacular comebacks, brilliant goals and wins against Inter and AC Milan certainly propelled them to the big league. Then they ran into an inspired Real Madrid side at the Santiago Bernabeu, a team that was looking for redemption after the defeat against Sporting Gijon. Los Galacticos did not disappoint and spanked Spurs 4-0 rather unexpectedly.
Formation worries for Spurs and the Ade factor
Jose Mourinho named his expected line-up and risked Ronaldo and Marcelo by starting them both in a 4-2-3-1 set up. Harry Redknapp was ready to unleash Bale and Lennon onto the relatively poor defenders, Ramos and Marcelo, while Crouch was to provide the ammunition as the target man. H0wever, Lennon withdrew from the game, citing an illness and all of Redknapp’s plans came crashing to the ground. He switched Bale to the right to attack and push Marcelo back into his own half, and deprive Ronaldo off a support on the left flank. Modric started on the left wing with Jenas and Sandro in the centre of the field. It proved to be tactical blunder from Harry as Bale hardly got any touch on the ball in his make shift position and was easily neutralized. Sandro and Jenas provided no creativity at the centre of the pitch as Xabi Alonso ran riot. Peter Crouch cut a lonely figure upfront, being denied any kind of service from the midfield.
Old enemies die hard.
Spurs were a goal down thanks to their eternal nemesis, Adebayor, courtesy a terrific header from a corner. Modric couldn’t do enough to clear the ball and Real Madrid looked to run away with the tie as they simply attacked all out. Adebayor even came back to defend corners to counter the height of Crouch. Van Der Vaart hardly got time on the ball as Madrid pressed harder to retain the ball. Spurs looked a bit frustrated and were running out of ideas very early in the game, but Peter Crouch clearly had every idea of going into the record books. After a stupid tackle on Ramos, he attacked Marcelo needlessly and entered into the record books, as it was the fastest double yellow card in the history of the Champions League, depriving Spurs of their target man. In the space of 15 minutes, Harry had lost his two most important weapons in Lennon and Crouch. Harry then shifted Bale to the left, Modric to the centre and Jenas to the right.
Set the pace and win the game
There is this notion that English teams play faster and more direct compared to their Spanish counterparts. But yesterday, Real Madrid demonstrated how faster they can actually play. With Xabi Alonso mastering the art of midfield creativity, Los Blancos simply outplayed the Londoners with their crisp passing. They set the tempo of the game so high that Spurs were reduced to chasing the game rather than playing it. Whenever Spurs got the ball, Real hounded the opposition and pressed them, regaining possession of the ball and nullifying any potential threat.
Spurs’ defense played narrow, abandoning the flanks for the most part which allowed Marcelo to dance down continuously from the left and attack more. It would be no exaggeration to say that Marcelo was actually a winger yesterday. But with Spurs closing down the spaces in the middle, Ozil’s role was reduced to retaining the ball and looking for a team mate with space on the flanks.
Real will be accused of being a bit more direct in their approach and erring in utilizing the width of the pitch effectively as Di Maria abandoned his wing many times and moved to the centre trying to penetrate the defense . But with Alonso bossing around and switching wing play, Ronaldo and Maria switched wings effortlessly. Moreover, with Khedira pressing for the ball tirelessly, Real Madrid played nearly the entire game in Spurs’ half.
The first half did create many chances with Los Blancos preferring to attack individually rather than collectively as a team, particularly Ronaldo and Di Maria, and could not score more. Spurs had only one outlet to attack as they repeatedly tried to find Bale who looked threatening with the ball as he raced forward and did take a few shots but was kept in check by the defense that had only him to mark.
The Real party begins
It was expected that Real Madrid players would be a bit tired after their constant pressing and running in the first half and would slow down the game just a bit. But Mourinho clearly had no such intentions. Harry Redknapp subbed Van Der Vaart for Defoe to inject some pace in offense and help out Bale. Real Madrid continued from where they left off and Marcelo found Adebayor, who again headed the ball home for his second. He could have easily had his third but Gomez pulled off a brilliant save to deny the Togolese striker his hattrick. And then in the 72nd minute, Angel Di Maria provided a moment of magic that brought the Bernabeu to its feet as he cut in from the right and finished with a magnificent shot to the top far corner.
Di Maria’s strike provided icing on the cake.
Real Madrid were now truly cruising. Mourinho then substituted Adebayor, who received a thunderous standing ovation, for Higuain and Di Maria for Kaka with 15 minutes from time. Cristiano Ronaldo finally got his goal in the 87th minute which was supposedly his 14th shot in the match, thanks to a Kaka assist.
Could Spurs have avoided this disaster?
It is difficult for Spurs to fightback after they lost Crouch so early, especially with Real in deadly form, but certainly Spurs had a good play maker in Luka Modric. They should have tried to slow down the game a bit and not rush forward at every opportunity. They did defend extremely well but that was all they could do. Their game had become too obvious after the Crouch sending off and there was no tactical invention from Redknapp to stop Madrid or atleast give some chance to Spurs. It reflected the lack of plans and the tactical naivety of Harry. This match was never a battle of tactics, and it all was down to Redknapp’s men to pull off some kind of magic trick, but clearly Real had more quality.
The second leg looks more like a formality now and with Jose Mourinho managing Real Madrid, it looks like an impossible climb for the Lilywhites.
Passing success stats:
Xabi Alonso – 86/92 – 93.5%
Mesut Ozil – 63/69 – 91 %
Marcelo – 62/71 – 87%
Ronaldo – 56/59 – 95%
Di Maria – 40/43 – 93%
More detailed stats here.