Real Madrid's weekend preparations for their UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg couldn't have gone much better, as Carlo Ancelotti was able to rotate his squad and bring off three key players in the second half for a rest, and his team still won 4-0, moving back up to second in La Liga.
Cristiano Ronaldo's long-range brace, plus headers from Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal, made it a comfortable evening for Real ahead of their return fixture at Bayern Munich in midweek.
While there was very little opposition from Osasuna on the night, it reinforced the message that Real are far more comfortable going forward, something they should look to do at every opportunity in the second leg.
Athletes and Away Goals
Pep Guardiola suggested after the first leg that his side maintained possession at all costs to avoid getting stung on the counter-attack by Real Madrid's powerful, pacy attackers:
Guardiola calls Real Madrid "the best team in the world on the counter-attack. They're footballers, but they're also athletes."— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) April 23, 2014
Guardiola praises RealMadrid "athletes." It's as though he forgot Bayern's superior athleticism is what saw them hammer the Barca he built— Clark Whitney (@Mr_Bundesliga) April 23, 2014
It didn't exactly work, as Real won 1-0 and had the better opportunities in the game, leaving the Bundesliga team needing to force the issue somewhat more in the second leg. That will play into Real's hands, who will look to exploit gaps on the break whenever possible.
While the temptation might be not to commit too many men forward, especially in the early part of the game, that's exactly what Real should do—flood those spaces on the counter, look for the clinical part of their game shown against Osasuna and snatch an away goal.
Do that, and Bayern need to score three times.
Real did defend well against Bayern Munich in the first leg, closing out spaces and maintaining a good defensive shape, but a lot of the possession from the German team was in front of the defence, without really giving the back line too much to worry about with vertical movement and penetration.
The suspicion must be that Bayern will look to raise the tempo of their play in the second leg, at home, knowing that they need to score goals of their own this time.
Can Real Madrid see out another 90 minutes of action without conceding a goal against a team that has scored 89 league goals this season? Possibly, but probably not, given what is at stake and the variety of attackers available to Bayern. At some point, the wise money would be on Bayern finding a way through and taking a chance.
Real Madrid's own defensive record is not so strong—compared to an Atletico, say, or a Chelsea—that they can afford to sit back, play defensive-minded players and hope to protect their lead.
Options to Change
While the likes of Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and others provide great pace and power on the break and quality in the final third, Real will have options on the bench to shore up the match when they need to.
Nacho put in a good performance at right-back against Osasuna, while Raphael Varane again showed his immense ability, albeit against lacklustre opposition. Those two in particular can be options from the bench for Real if they still lead and the game is still tight later on in the second leg.
From the beginning, though, Dani Carvajal is the more probable option to lend pace and direct play down the flanks whenever possible.
Real won't go all-out attack, of course; Bayern's control and dominance won't let them. But they should certainly be looking to get numbers forward at every opportunity, enjoy more prolonged possession when possible and be confident of going to get the win themselves rather than protecting the initial lead they have.
Although Carlo Ancelotti might want to ask central defender Sergio Ramos to be a little more restrained with his forward runs from deep than he was against Osasuna.