On Tuesday, Real Madrid once again dispatched Bayern Munich to reach their fourth UEFA Champions League Final in the last five years. It was a clinical display from Madrid as they were out-shot, out-possessed and for most of the two legs, out-played. But they were strong where it counted finishing their chances and beating Bayern 4-3 over two legs.
The Defining Tactic of Real Madrid
This tie was a perfect display of how being clinical in front of both goals is the most crucial element required for Champions League glory. When Madrid needed a goal there was Karim Benzema both times, with a Sven Ulreich assist of course. Boy don’t the Germans wish they had a healthy Manuel Neuer back there.
And when Real Madrid needed a clearance or a block in front of their goal, they got that. Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, for all the stick they get, always get a clearance when they need one. Madrid’s defending is always questioned; ESPNFC’s Steve Nichol loves to rag on Ramos and claims he’s a bad defender.
But Madrid have made a tactic out of giving their opponents opportunities, only to put the fire out at the last minute. Look at all these UCL ties from the last three years, since Zinedine Zidane took over and you see their opponents have plenty of chances. But those chances are missed, or cleared away, or saved by Keylor Navas.
As the opponent, whether it’s Bayern or Juventus or Atletico Madrid, grows in confidence they commit more men forward. With that commitment the pressure on Real Madrid builds, but that’s what they want. Because as the pressure builds, the back door creeps open a little bit more. And we all know who the scary man waiting to open the door is.
What makes this Real Madrid side so deadly is their outstanding use of Cristiano Ronaldo. Unlike almost every other player in the world, Ronaldo truly only needs one chance to score. He has spent many of these games as a passenger, but in the back of everyone’s mind. And then, a flash when you least expect it, and he’s already in the corner reminding your fans what’s on the back of his jersey.
Its a strategy that can be really feast or famine, just as Madrid showed in the first half of this season. When they aren’t firing on all cylinders, particularly Ronaldo, it gets ugly and they throw away the domestic league & cup in the process. But when they’re on, like they are right now, it is incredibly hard to beat.
And despite that poor start, Madrid is now faced with two games to decide if their season is a glorious success or abject failure. A Sunday trip to Barcelona for El Clasico, with an opportunity to end Barcelona’s unbeaten league streak of 41 games. And the Champions League Final in Kiev at the end of May.
This weekend’s game against Barcelona is always a tasty affair. But the pressure on this occasion is momentous; Madrid and their fans would love nothing more than to end that unbeaten run and prevent Barca from an invincible league season. Well except maybe their 13th European Cup.
When they take the field on that Saturday in Kiev, regardless of what happens between then and now, they will be favourites. They are the better team, with the better players and years of experience Liverpool cannot call on. But its not their experience or the quality of their players that will decide their fate in these games.
Much like their semi-final against Bayern Munich there will be moments in both games where Madrid are on the back foot, being pressured; where the opponent, Barca or Liverpool, are creating chances; when Navas is forced into a big save or Varane makes a giant clearance. And in those moments they are left with two options.
They will either hold strong, as they have done throughout this incredible UCL run, or they won’t. If they don’t, the light goes out and the dream dies, their season will turn from success to failure. It’s a distinct tactic only they know, and only they can execute to perfection. They’ve down it twice before, do you really think it won’t happen again?