It was pleasantly surprising to see the Benfica Coentrão again, given that he’s been M.I.A. for a while now.
With that said, this article will tell you why Los Blancos fans should still worry about the Portuguese defender.
The way Fábio Coentrão surged into Manchester United's defensive half seemingly with no restraints, brought back memories of the Benfica Coentrão, who at one point was arguably the most dangerous left-back in Europe.
Real Madrid would have had two goals courtesy of Fábio if David de Gea didn't decide to shut his critics up with a world-class display—as The Time's Oliver Kay tweeted: "shades of Mark Bosnich in 2000."
José Mourinho again reaffirmed his Maverick tendencies by allowing Coentrão freedom to roam, even though the defender hasn't been afforded this privilege week in, week out at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Why doesn't Mourinho give Fábio the green light more often?
Well, tell me what the tradeoff is for Cristiano Ronaldo's greatness?
It's that the full-back behind him doesn't receive adequate defensive support.
Former teammate Gary Neville embraced Ronaldo's lack of positional discipline; accepting that the pros far outweighed the cons (via the Daily Mail):
Darren Fletcher would say that we'd have to work around him [CR7], because he'd always do more harm than opposing players he was leaving free to go forward.
It got to the point that as right-back in that 2006-07 season I never complained if he could go off for 30 minutes and leave me two on one.
Unfortunately for Coentrão, he has been shackled by José due to the threat of opposing teams launching easy counter attacks should both Fábio and Ronaldo get stuck upfield.
This is the reason why Coentrão's attacking efficiency for Los Merengues has been dreadful.
G = goal/s; A = assist/s; SCPG = shots created per game; C% = crossing percentage; CDPG = completed dribbles per game
Here are two reasons why Fábio Coentrão's performance against Manchester United is a blip as opposed to a trend.
1. Rafael and Wayne Rooney Weren't Offensive Threats
Rafael, one of the Premier League's in-form right-backs, had a night to forget.
His defending resembled how Fagner plays for Wolfsburg—wins back the ball a lot but is caught out way too often due to overzealous pressing.
With Rafael keeping an eye on Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United's Brazilian stayed firmly in his own half, not even attempting a cross, let alone creating a goal scoring opportunity for his teammates.
Rooney used to play out wide in big-games to cover Ronaldo but Sir Alex Ferguson made the wrong decision to re-visit that tactic in order to start Shinji Kagawa.
The Japanese is an inferior player to Wayne, whose on-field connection with Robin van Persie is near-telepathic.
The main difference is that Samuel's speed enabled him to keep up with opposing attacking players, whereas the Englishman looked off-the-pace and his positioning was suspect.
Mourinho knew this was going to happen and implored Coentrão to throw caution to the wind. Now, the left-back had the peace of mind he always wanted from José.
Sir Alex Ferguson won't make the same mistake twice.
He'll drop Shinji to the bench, play Rooney behind RVP, and start Antonio Valencia in right midfield.
It's essentially a second right-back but the Ecuadorian can be a one-man counter attack, thus giving José some pause for thought regarding whether or not to allow Fábio such free reign in the opposing half.
2. Coentrão Profited Off Referee Felix Brych's Inconsistencies
Robin van Persie's first act: receives a yellow card for innocuously backing into Sergio Ramos, who reacted as if he had been punched by Sergio Martínez (Ramos would later get away with elbowing Jonny Evans in the back of the head).
Yes, Fábio made some crucial interceptions, but he was fortunate to be in the good books of referee Brych.
Of the five fouls Coentrão officially recorded, he didn't receive a single yellow card.
There were numerous other incidents where he should have been called for shirt-pulling but wasn't.
Then again, this is the same referee that missed Raphaël Varane pulling down an on-rushing Patrice Evra, so I guess you shouldn't expect much from Brych.
Speaking of the referee, his performance reinforces the conventional idea that officials generally favour the home side.
He was so frightened of being possibly called out by Mourinho that he wouldn't even allow United to take the corner for the last play of the game.
Also, Fábio registered more fouls than completed tackles, so that's a concern going into the second leg.
He won't be afforded such leeway with his fouling at Old Trafford where referees tend to balk at making decisions against United.
When there is such a precipitous decline, you have to look at other circumstances which have affected Fábio Coentrão's form, i.e. the intense scrutiny he cops on the chin and his erratic behaviour.
He arrived at Madrid from Benfica for €30 million and his former club were also given an emerging talent in Ezequiel Garay via a separate deal.
The socio-economic plight of Madrid factors heavily in the criticism of Coentrão, which is the same with Luka Modrić (via B/R):
32.2 percent of Marca readers voted Modrić as La Liga's worst signing of 2012 but if he arrived on a Bosman, he wouldn't have received the denigrating title.
It's the outrageously inflated transfer fee (props to Daniel Levy), in an arduous economical climate, which heavily factors against Modrić in the court of public opinion (understandably so).
European football expert Andy Brassell spoke about Coentrão being an easy target by the media, especially those who harbour anti-Mourinho sentiments (via BBC Sport):
He [Cristiano Ronaldo] is also upset with what he regards as the unfair treatment of his close friend and Real Madrid and Portugal team-mate Fábio Coentrão.
It is felt that the Madrid press often have a dig at midfielder Coentrão, who is seen as a soft target, when they want to get at Mourinho or Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese super-agent both players share with their coach.
A classic example was Fábio missing a tackle on Philipp Lahm, who sent in a cross leading to an 89th minute winner from Mario Gomez in last season's UEFA Champions League semi-finals first leg.
33.3 percent of El Mundo's audience gave the former Benfica defender a 0/10. The readers over at Marca were slightly more generous with a 2.3/10 whilst their journalists gave him a 1/10.
Sure, Coentrão wasn't as resolute as José Antonio Camacho, but Fábio wasn't that bad.
Omit that mistake and it was just another below-par performance, though if you went by the polls, you would have thought he replicated his disastrous display during the 5-0 defeat to Porto as a Benfica player.
Coentrão is to Real Madrid what Marco Motta was to Juventus.
Fábio has to play out of his skin to avoid the verbal assaults, but if he's below-par, he may as well be a recluse for the next week or so because the fans and the media will make his life a living hell.
Last March, Coentrão dismissed claims that he was unprofessional after being caught smoking (from Record via Fox Sports):
I am very disappointed with what has been written in the press because no one can say anything bad about me. I am an excellent professional, I have always given everything for the clubs I have represented and it is not fair to put everything in doubt because of one isolated act.
August 27, 2012 (from Marca via Stefan Coerts at Goal.com):
Referee Miguel Angel Perez Lasa has explained his decision to show Fábio Coentrão a straight red card.
He [Coentrão] contacted me when the game was halted, and insulted me when I stood next to him by calling me a 'son of a whore.'
January 4, 2013 (per Marca):
Fábio Coentrão's absence from the year's first training session is having a serious knock-on effect on the discipline of the Blancos playing staff, and the player himself is facing stiff sanctions.
Mourinho found out and ordered the player to come to his office. He told him that he was extremely disappointed with his attitude and reminded him that he still has five months left on his contract, telling him: "you're playing with your future."
Is his wayward behaviour the byproduct of being misunderstood in a Los Blancos shirt?
Real Madrid supporters shouldn't get too carried away with how Coentrão played against Manchester United.
The gung-ho style of raiding the left flank, which made him a star at Benfica and earned him a mention as an outstanding player during the 2007 U-20 FIFA World Cup, will not work against more complete teams like Bayern Munich and Juventus.
We don't even know if he'll play like that at Old Trafford—surely, Sir Alex Ferguson will instruct his players to attack the space left behind by Fábio.
It's a catch-22...
When he's forced to play like a conventional left-back, he's not a lock-down defender because he has defensive deficiencies.
As a result, he looks below-par at the back whilst offering nothing in attack, thus becoming fodder for criticism.
However, if he puts on the afterburners and goes hyper, he leaves the entire left flank exposed.
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