Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund: 6 Things We Learned
Real Madrid gave themselves an excellent chance of making it through to the final four of the Champions League with a 3-0 first-leg victory over Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
First-half goals from Gareth Bale and Isco were given additional gloss by a third from Cristiano Ronaldo after the break, providing Madrid with an advantage they will be confident of holding on to in the second leg in Germany next week.
Here are six things we learned from Real Madrid’s victory over Borussia Dortmund.
Isco Should Be Ancelotti's First-Choice Back-Up
When Angel Di Maria pulled out due to illness early on Wednesday, as per AS, Carlo Ancelotti was faced with a decision over should replace him in the starting XI.
Asier Illarramendi had stepped into the shoes of Di Maria, then Luka Modric, in Madrid’s previous two league matches, but it was Isco who got the nod on Wednesday.
It was the correct decision. Illarramendi has looked hesitant in possession in recent appearances and could easily have wilted under the pressure of Dortmund’s high press. Isco, on the other hand, had the technique and confidence to receive the ball in tight quarters, take players on and help Madrid advance up the pitch.
He capped an impressive first-half performance with a well-taken strike from the edge of the area just before the half hour and continued to play well up until his substitution for Illarramendi in the 71st minute.
If Di Maria or Modric is unavailable in the future, Isco should be Ancelotti’s first-choice replacement.
Ronaldo Is a Goal Away from a New Record
It was a big night for Cristiano Ronaldo, who, per Marca, made his 100th Champions League appearance and also equalled the all-time record for most goals in one European Cup/Champions League campaign with his 14th goal of this year’s competition.
He carried a knee injury into the match, as per AS, and was certainly not at his best, but he displayed excellent quick feet to round Roman Weidenfeller and finish in one motion when played in by Luka Modric in the 57th minute.
Ronaldo went down holding his knee shortly thereafter. He continued for a while but was finally substituted in the 80th minute.
He will have left the pitch content in the knowledge that he will, in all likelihood, now have three matches to add to his goal tally and move ahead of José Altafini and Lionel Messi in the record books.
Benzema Can't Buy a Goal
This was the third consecutive match in which Karim Benzema failed to score and again, it was his finishing rather than his general performance that let him down.
His pace and physicality caused numerous problems for the Borussia Dortmund defence. The first goal, scored by Gareth Bale, emanated from Benzema outmuscling a defender by the right touchline before playing the ball inside to Daniel Carvajal, who in turn found Bale.
Yet while his overall contribution was good, he failed to find the back of the net when presented with good opportunities.
He headed wide from close range just before half-time. In the second half, Dortmund defender Mats Hummels showed greater desire in beating him to Cristiano Ronaldo’s low cross. Two efforts on target from the edge of the area were well-saved by Roman Weidenfeller.
Benzema will be desperate to end his goalscoring slump by getting on the scoresheet away to Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Set Piece Diplomacy for Bale and Ronaldo
A week after Ronaldo threw a very public strop when Bale, rather than him, was afforded responsibility for a late free-kick in Real Madrid’s defeat to Sevilla, the pair seem to have come to an amicable agreement over the sharing of set pieces.
Sergio Ramos took the one free-kick within shooting range that Madrid were awarded during their weekend win over Rayo Vallecano and on Wednesday, the three free-kicks in and around the area were evenly distributed, with Ronaldo taking the first, Bale the second and Ramos the third.
It looked as if both Ronaldo and Bale had been practicing their free-kicks during the week, as Ronaldo's curling effort was tipped over by Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, who then produced an even better save to keep out Bale’s dipping strike.
Friendly competition can only be good for Madrid. If you have two free-kick takers as good as Bale and Ronaldo, why not use both of them equally?
Depleted Dortmund Lack a Little Quality
Borussia Dortmund came into the match with a crippling injury list that robbed them of regular first-teamers Ilkay Gundogan, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Marcel Schmelzer, Neven Subotic and Sven Bender.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” coach Jurgen Klopp told Marca in a pre-match interview.
With top-scorer Robert Lewandowski suspended, the starting XI that went out onto the Bernabeu pitch on Wednesday was far from Dortmund’s strongest, and they missed that little extra bit of quality that might have allowed them to get something from the match.
They did create some threatening situations, particularly on the counter-attack, but time after time their decision-making or final ball let them down with good opportunities going to waste.
It was not a bad performance by any means, but Dortmund did have goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller to thank for a number of good saves. Now they have a very difficult task ahead of them in the second leg.
Dortmund May Look Different Post-Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski has already agreed to move to Bayern Munich for next season, and Wednesday’s match provided us with a sneak preview of what Dortmund could look like in the post-Lewandowski era.
It was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who was handed the responsibility of leading the line in Lewandowski’s absence and in the early exchanges, he spent his time on the shoulder of the last defender, looking for opportunities in behind and rarely showing for the ball with his back to goal.
It was reminiscent of Dortmund’s hyper-verticality during the two seasons (2009-11) that Lucas Barrios was their primary striker before the more well-rounded Lewandowski became first choice. While Aubameyang was more associative in the second half, he does seem better-suited to the role played by Barrios.
It will be difficult to find a like-for-like replacement for Lewandowski this summer as strikers with his range of talents are both rare and expensive. If Dortmund are unable to find such a player then a return to the tactics of Jurgen Klopp’s early reign could well be on the cards.