Our Friends over at Spanish Football.info were nice enough to give us a little look into Real Madrid prior to this week’s big match between the Spanish powerhouse and French superteam, Lyon. This preview was written by Jamie McGregor. Enjoy.
The Champions League is always an important competition for Real Madrid but with los blancos 5 points behind a seemingly unstoppable Barcelona in the league, this year’s competition takes on even greater importance. Furthermore, success in the Champions League is now a psychological factor for the club and their fans. For a club who have won the competition 9 times, more than anyone else, the last 6 years have been exceptionally disappointing and the feeling is that the club has lost some of its prestige abroad. On each of their last 6 attempts, Real Madrid have failed to get past the last 16. As if that weren’t bad enough, in that same period of time Barcelona have won the competition twice. With José Mourinho, a manager who has won the tournament on two occasions, now in charge, expectations are once again sky high.
The season so far and the Mourinho factor
The story of Real Madrid’s season so far revolves around two Portuguese stars, José Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo. After completing a historic treble with Inter Milan, Mourinho left Italy to join Spanish giants Real Madrid. Despite spending over €200 million on players and achieving a club record points tally, previous coach Manuel Pelligrini wasn’t able to wrestle the league away from Barcelona. Not only that, his side crashed out in the last 16 of the Champions League against Olympique Lyon. The appointment of Mourinho was as much as about guaranteeing European success as it was domestic. As expected, under Mourinho Real Madrid have changed into a more solid unit. Psychologically the club has also been transformed although their confidence took a bit of a hammering in the Camp Nou in November. While league success still seems a bit off, European success seems much more likely. In the group stage of the competition, Madrid won all but one of their matches, drawing 2-2 away to AC Milan. While Real Madrid may have been tactically naive against Lyon last season, that is unlikely to happen under Mourinho. The Portuguese coach is known for his meticulous preparation and after watching Lyon’s recent win against Saint-Étienne, he will make sure Madrid are well drilled on Lyon’s strengths and weaknesses.
The danger man
Mourinho’s arrival at the club has had a profound impact on all the players, none more so than star man Cristiano Ronaldo. Last season, Ronaldo seemed to be on a one man mission to do everything himself with Pelligrini having little or no control over him. While Ronaldo is clearly a great player, his obsession with scoring every goal, taking every free kick and penalty and shooting at every conceivable opportunity was at times to detriment of the team. Under Mourinho, most things still tend to revolve around Ronaldo but there isn’t the same Ronaldodependencia of last season. The incorporation of Dí Maria and Ozil has given Madrid an extra dimension that wasn’t there under Pelligrini.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When talking about Real Madrid, their strengths are obvious. They are a young, fast and strong team with some special players and a very special coach. Their style of play is physical and direct and when they’re on song they are capable of thrashing most teams. Unlike Barcelona, Real Madrid are strong in the air with the likes of Ronaldo, Ramos, Carvalho, Pepe and Khedira. They are also an extremely quick side with Dí María and Ozil excellent on the counter attack. However, like any team, they have their weaknesses. While Real Madrid may be physically stronger than Barcelona they are much less comfortable on the ball. That means teams who get at them and pressure them can get some joy. This is exactly what happened in games against Osasuna and Almería. Xabi Alonso apart, Madrid don’t have the sort of midfielders who are comfortable taking possession and playing a patient passing game. The same is also true of Madrid’s defenders who, if pressured, tend to give the ball away cheaply. Finally, when Real Madrid have dropped points this season, it’s tended to come away from the Bernabéu. For that reason, it’s vital Lyon get a positive result in France to take to Spain. It’s going to be a lot more difficult than last season but if Osasuna can beat them, then surely Lyon can.