Real Madrid may have one foot in the Final Four of this season’s Champions League, but their 3-0 win over Galatasaray on Wednesday was not achieved without controversy.
Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen’s performance was erratic and seemed to favour the hosts from the fifth minute, when both Karim Benzema and Sami Khedira went in for high challenges and might have found themselves in the book.
Then, in the 77th minute, Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz should probably have earned a penalty when he was brought down in the Madrid box by Sergio Ramos, but instead of going to the spot, he was shown a yellow card for simulation.
There were other talking points as well, of course.
Cristiano Ronaldo was exceptional for Madrid once again, getting the rout started after just nine minutes, and striker Karim Benzema continued an exceptional run of goalscoring in the Champions League.
These were just some of the things we learned from the first leg. The following slideshow will reveal some additional takeaways.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world not currently sidelined with a hamstring injury.
He opened the scoring with a delicate chip over Fernando Muslera after just nine minutes. He was, once again, Madrid’s best player on the night.
He now leads the Champions League with nine goals and has found the back of the net 45 times in 45 appearances for his club so far this season.
But his best football has been saved for Europe’s most prestigious club competition, and to follow up a pair of goals in the Round of 16 against Manchester United, he got things going for his side in the quarterfinals.
Even when Iker Casillas is fully fit and ready to resume his goalkeeping duties for Real Madrid, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to displace Diego Lopez Rodriguez immediately.
Since joining the Meringues from Sevilla for €3.5 million in January, the 31-year-old has lost just one of 13 starts and backstopped his side to both a Copa del Rey win over Barcelona and Champions League Round of 16 victory over Manchester United.
And while he wasn’t called into action that much against Galatasaray, he had to make two or three important saves to preserve his clean sheet—and Madrid’s 3-0 advantage heading into the second leg.
It may be good enough for a four-point lead atop the Turkish Super Lig, but Galatasaray’s defense simply doesn’t have the quality to displace an elite side from the last eight of the Champions League.
Emmanuel Eboue, in particular, looked in over his head at the Bernabeu (something that will come as no surprise to Arsenal supporters), and Dany Nounkeu was also found out over the 90 minutes.
Set pieces were continually problematic for the guests—as was best exemplified when no one picked up Gonzalo Higuain following Xabi Alonso’s delivery from distance ahead of the third goal.
Benzema’s strike, too, left a trio of Galatasaray defenders red-faced, as none of Eboue, Nounkeu and Semih Kaya was able to deal with Michael Essien’s cross from the right.
The statistics bear this out.
In 50 Champions League matches for both Lyon and Real Madrid, Karim Benzema has scored 30 goals. Four of them have come in this season’s Champions League, which is an especially telling return given he has only managed eight in 22 Primera Division matches.
At times during this campaign, the 25-year-old has appeared slow and out of shape, but the grand occasion of the Champions League seems to get the best out of him.
That Higuain finally opened his 2012-13 Champions League account should only serve as additional motivation for Benzema, who has until now been manager Jose Mourinho’s go-to striker in Europe.
Real Madrid will progress to the semifinals, which will be drawn on April 12.
There is no realistic scenario for another outcome, and with La Liga all but conceded to Barcelona, the outgoing Spanish champions will be putting all their eggs in the Champions League basket.
Galatasaray, to their credit, were not intimidated at the Bernabeu and, but for some better officiating, might even have made Wednesday’s match more of a contest.
But a 3-0 deficit to the nine-time European Cup winners is a hole too deep to dig out of, and while the Turkish champions will likely come out guns blazing in the return leg, their opponents are not naive enough to go into the match expecting anything less than an onslaught from a desperate opponent.