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article imageZidane's Madrid showcase maturity against feisty Man City

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 26, 2016 in Sports
Knockout cup competitions matches are typified as slow-burning cagey affairs, and Real Madrid’s trip to the Etihad Stadium justified the belief.
Both sides were missing dangerous attacking players, here, however — Yaya Toure and Cristiano Ronaldo were unavailable due to injury — which pushed the incentive to showcase caution. City offer improved structure and solidity without the Ivorian, whereas Ronaldo’s exclusion ensured Real were solid on the left, despite being deprived of their main goal-scoring threat.
Pellegrini’s approach, however, revolved around the work-rate of the Brazilian midfield duo and quick transitions when City won possession. Fernandinho is key in this respect, and with Toure unavailable, the 30-year-old was free to play in his natural box-to-box role to lead the press with the front-men.
Fernandinho and Fernando made vital interceptions and tackles before offsetting passing moves into wide areas — although, it must be said a crucial aspect to their success was the constant misplaced passes from Real’s centre-backs. City pressed higher up the pitch when Real attempted to play out the back, but Pellegrini’s men were ineffective in the final third.
Essentially both sides encountered different issues. Pellegrini’s industrious XI lacks a creative passer in deeper zones meaning Kevin De Bruyne charging down the channels was their sole route to goal from open play. Real, on the other hand, were unable to break on the counter through Gareth Bale who either struggled in wide areas against Gael Clichy or was fouled on several occasions in the midfield zone. Yet, when Zinedine Zidane’s men monopolized brief spells of possession in City’s half, they simply lacked the guile around the box to get behind the opposition’s back four.
Opposed to pressing the hosts higher up the pitch, Real dropped into a 4-5-1 to ensure City were unable to play through midfield. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric stepped forward to press the City midfield pivot, while the latter also helped with tracking David Silva’s movement in midfield when Karim Benzema negated passing lanes into Fernando.
Ultimately, injuries to Benzema and Silva forced both sides to alter their shape. Kelechi Iheanacho played behind Sergio Aguero, thus pushing De Bruyne to the left flank, while Jese’s halftime introduction witnessed Real transition into a hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 — Lucas Vasquez dropped deeper to offer cover in wide areas, as Jese and Bale roamed around the final third.
“I think we played a very intensive game, defended very well and we tried to create until Silva was injured," Pellegrini said.
"After that we lost the ball too much. We couldn’t create clear chances but if you can’t win I think the best draw is 0-0.
Nevertheless, Zidane’s men improved substantially in the second half as City’s pressing regressed, thus enabling the away side to easily bypass the hosts. City’s decision to drop closer towards their box in a 4-4-1-1 wasn’t necessarily ineffective, but Pellegrini’s men were constantly exposed when they persisted to pressed in smaller groups in Real’s half, opposed to a collective unit.
Bale suddenly received space between the lines to pick up the ball and run at the City defence, whilst Modric, in particular, steered Madrid forward with his passes from deep. Elsewhere, City were unconvincing from an attacking perspective due to their reluctance to push men forward to combine with an isolated Aguero on the counter-attack — Zidane’s men equally deserve huge credit for quickly retreating into their base shape to limit any possibility of a City counter-attack.
The final 15 minutes of the match was dramatic, but it oddly stemmed from set-piece execution — a trait neither side is truly renowned for. Casemiro and Pepe forced Joe Hart to make key saves from six-yards out, while De Bruyne forced Dani Carvajal into a booking, then subsequently forced Keylor Navas to push his free-kick over the net.
"I am happy with the game," said Zidane. "It was not easy but in the end, we defended really well. We had the ball more in the second half and we had more chances after the break. It was a tough game but I am happy with the result.
Perhaps both managers will be pleased with the result for dissimilar reasons, but here, Real grew into the match because City were unable to sustain the energy levels displayed in the first half via pressing. Pellegrini is likely to persist with the approach at the Bernabeu considering the away goal advantage, but the Chilean must identify an alternative attacking method specifically for the latter stages of the second leg.
More about Real madrid, Manchester city, Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale
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