Apr 2, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT
The team’s slipped to third in the Primera Division, but in light of the rest of this week’s results, Real Madrid may still be second favorites in Champions League. At least, if its 3-0 win on Wednesday over Borussia Dortmund is any indication, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has put its brief slump behind its, with goals from Gareth Bale, Isco, and Cristiano Ronaldo helping the team get some revenge for last year’s semifinal loss.
It was a near-perfect night for the home side, one that left only a few, thin misgivings. In the last 10 minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo had to leave the game with an apparent foot injury, with Real Madrid fans left hoping the move was merely precautionary. And in defense, the same, subtly erratic play that’s always characterized the Pepe-Sergio Ramos partnership was evident in small doses. Ahead of Roberto Lewandowski’s return, it’s something to think about.
It’s also part of our three observations after the first leg at the Bernabéu.
1. Confidence restored for Real Madrid – Two wins in a row put last week’s slump behind the Merengues, but whereas this weekend’s rout of Rayo Vallecano kept losses to Barcelona and Sevilla in the rearview, today’s romp post Borussia Dortmund put those slips over the horizon. At least in Champions League, Real Madrid is certainly back on track.
To Ancelotti’s credit, you saw the team’s restored confidence from the opening whistle. Not only did Gareth Bale put the team up within minutes, but the control Real Madrid exerted on the game spoke to a team with a purpose. It also portrayed a group that has, at least temporarily, buttressed the fragility that was exposed with the loss to Barcelona.
2. For whatever reason, Borussia Dortmund just wasn’t there tonight – Perhaps Dortmund played into Real Madrid’s resurgence a little, though it’s difficult to get into the mind of a team dealt such an early blow. Still, Jürgen Klopp’s team looked particularly flat on Wednesday, giving one of their worst European performances over the last two seasons. The energy and fight they’ve used to overcome a season of misfortune was never evident at the Bernabéu.
Maybe the team finally started believing the doubts. Throughout the season, player after player has gone down, yet Dortmund kept moving forward. In the face of constant questions as to whether it could push on, the team managed to do so. BVB won its Champions League group, reclaimed second in Germany, and had a relatively easy time in the Round of 16. Particularly going forward, the team looked nearly as capable as last year’s finalists.
On Wednesday, however, Dortmund played like a wounded team. Aside from a few forays from Marco Reus, none of the endeavor we usually see from BVB was there. Even by the standards of a depleted team, it was a drastically sub-par performance, as if it finally started to believe all the negative hype.
3. A defense that gives BVB hope – Next week, however, BVB gets Robert Lewandowski back, and while the 3-0 deficit it was handed on Wednesday looks almost insurmountable, last year’s results should give them hope. In the semifinals, Real Madrid’s leg one trip to Westphalia was met with a 4-1 loss, with Lewandowski scoring all four BVB goals.
With that in mind, the performance of Real Madrid’s defense has to give Klopp the thinnest of silver linings. Granted, El Real still kept a clean sheet (and got some great work from Pepe in the second half), but as is always the case with the Merengues, there’s a sense that the back line is less than the sum of its parts. Both Pepe and Sergio Ramos are great on an individual basis, yet together, along with Daniel Carvajal and Fabio Coentrao o(two more quality players), the team still seemed vulnerable. Between Reus’s forays, Mkhitaryan’s near-goal in the second half, and Casillas’s near-assist, Real Madrid proved just as vulnerable as last year. BVB just wasn’t able to capitalize.
It’s never good when you have to rely on amazing to get you through, but as last year showed, Lewandowski is capable. And next Tuesday, he’ll be back in the team. It’s not enough to expect BVB to advance, but it is enough to give them a sliver of hope.
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