Real Madrid eased past CSKA Moscow at home with a 4-1 scoreline that flattered to deceive. The army side could easily have taken the lead in the first half, with star marksman Seydou Doumbia scuffing an easy chance. However in the end Madrid’s clinical finishing was in full display, and the Merengues can now look forward to what should be a straightforward quarterfinal meeting with Cypriot minnows APOEL. After that, a difficult semifinal clash with Bayern Munich is likely, as I expect FC Hollywood to sweep their French challengers Marseille aside.
A few observations from the CSKA game:
1. Khedira had another fantastic game in the midfield engine room. In addition to his usual running, work rate and tackling, he showed a glimpse of his attacking ability with a glorious chipped pass to Kaka that left the backline scrambling. Kaka was left free to square the ball to Higuain, who tapped in the opener. A few minutes after that, Khedira played another fine chipped ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, but there was no goal forthcoming from that play. The German international rarely wins any plaudits for much of his good work in midfield goes unnoticed, so it was good to see him get some much-deserved limelight.
In addition to the assist, Khedira played a crucial role in negating the influence of CSKA’s talented playmaker Alan Dzagoev, and generally breaking up CSKA’s forward forays. The German-Tunisian put himself about as usual, closing down space, winning balls and generally making his presence felt. With his stamina, positional awareness and discipline, Khedira is the perfect foil to Xabi Alonso, whose ball distribution is vital to this Real Madrid team.
2. Kaka had another good game and was involved in most of Madrid’s good attacking play. While we won’t see the flashiness of Kaka circa 2007 again, the Brazilian proved that he still has a lot to offer. He has added a defensive side to his game, and this was evident against CSKA as he tracked back and displayed good off-the-ball pressuring. Di Maria’s absence may have proven a blessing in disguise as it has allowed Kaka to get some minutes under his belt. However, I can’t help but think Di Maria will go straight back into the starting lineup once he makes a full recovery. Nevertheless, Kaka’s new-found consistency will please Mourinho.
3. Real Madrid has three strikers in absolute white-hot form. Ronaldo got himself a brace to take his season tally to a mind-boggling 42 goals in just 39 games. Higuain scored the opener, while Benzema came on as a substitute and scored just seconds later. Unlike Barcelona which is overly dependent on Messi for goals, Real Madrid has three strikers that can each be relied on to score at least a goal every other game. It’s extremely rare for a team to have three players each scoring boatloads of goals, and this will stand the team in good stead as the business end of the Champions League approaches.
4. Going into this game, every single Madridista was hoping and praying that Xabi Alonso wouldn’t pick up a yellow card, as it would rule him out of the quarterfinal 1st leg. However, Alonso went ahead and did just that, earning a yellow for a completely needless challenge in midfield.
Thankfully, Real Madrid were handed the easiest of quarterfinal opponents in APOEL, meaning Alonso’s absence won’t be missed too much. APOEL deserve respect for having made it this far, but their fairytale run ends here. Expect Real Madrid to brush them aside without too much fuss and stroll into the semifinals, where they will face a really stern test if they come up against Bayern Munich as I expect they will.
Bayern is a team that has always given Real Madrid trouble, and should the two teams square up in the semifinals, it won’t be any different. Bayern’s strength lies in their flanks and wing demons Robben and Ribery (Robbery), while Real Madrid’s weakness is in their flank defending, with Arbeloa and Marcelo both showing their weaknesses in recent games.
Bayern also have a world-class centre-forward in Mario Gomez, and he will give Ramos and Pepe lots to think about. However, Real Madrid’s attack is the best in Europe while Bayern’s rearguard is shaky. So don’t be surprised if this turns out to be a high-scoring tie.
Now this is probably looking far too ahead, as Real Madrid DO have to defeat APOEL first. I can’t help but feel a bit complacent, but luckily I’m not the coach of Real Madrid; Mourinho is, and he will leave nothing to chance.