Rafael Benitez’s reign as Real Madrid manager got going with a 0-0 draw against AS Roma in the International Champions Cup in front of 80,746 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
After normal time yielded few chances of note, a subsequent 7-6 penalty shootout win for Roma means they picked up two points, with the La Liga giants taking the standard one for a draw.
The MCG is a pretty spectacular venue to play sport in and as we can see here courtesy of the stadium’s official Twitter feed, its iconic, steep-sided stands were packed out for the visit of these two illustrious European teams:
Initially, those in situ looked as though they were going to be treated to a thrilling encounter. Gervinho was denied at the end of a surging run thanks to brilliant work from Raphael Varane and then Giallorossi deity Francesco Totti clattered a shot against the bar after a goalmouth scramble.
In addition, we were also treated to an intriguing tactical setup from Benitez, which saw Gareth Bale deployed in the central position where he was so effective for Tottenham Hotspur, per Bleacher Report UK:
But after that initial flurry, the game descended into a lull for almost the entirety of the half. As noted by Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe, even Cristiano Ronaldo was struggling to shake off some standard pre-season rust:
There were some minor positives for Real to take, though. Teenage sensation Martin Odegaard was classy against fine opposition, while Jese Rodriguez was also sharp, as he looks to get some important preparation under his belt after the injury nightmares suffered in the previous term.
After a stalemate in the first 45 minutes, Benitez made eight changes after the break, with Karim Benzema, Isco and Toni Kroos all entering the fray. Immediately there was a little more impetus to Real’s passing and they carved out a couple of decent early openings.
As we can see here courtesy of M.A.J, Isco, in particular, was thrilling the Melbourne crowd in typical style:
But with rhythm clearly lacking at this stage of the year, golden chances were not materialising for either side. Isco was the main instigator for Los Blancos as he drifted into spaces and linked the play with panache, but the Giallorossi goalkeeper was rarely troubled.
Indeed, Roma actually started to re-establish themselves in the match as the final whistle edged closer, with Seydou Doumbia always posing a threat on the counter-attack. But neither side were able to conjure a decisive moment and after the conclusion of 90 goalless minutes, the teams took part in a penalty shootout to determine who picked up the extra point.
After 12 successful penalties from the off, Real youngster Lucas Vazquez had his kick saved by Morgan de Sanctis, before former Barcelona man Seydou Keita calmly slotted home the winner for the Serie A side.
It’s tough to take much away from this game, which, for both sides, was primarily about building a fitness base ahead of the serious stuff getting started. From a Madrid perspective, Bale’s utilisation in the No. 10 role and whether that’s a long-term deployment is probably the most intriguing thing to consider from the action at the MCG.
Despite a scarcity of spark, this match was a fruitful exercise for Benitez and he’ll have been delighted to see some of his star performers in action it what’s proven to be a very competitive pre-season competition. After this glimpse, expect subsequent lineups from the Spaniard to provide us with some clearer insight into how Los Blancos will line up in 2015-16.
It wasn’t the best day for the Portuguese star, as he struggled to make the kind of stellar impression on the game that is so commonplace. Ronaldo looked rusty throughout the first period and really struggled to get into the game, but expect him to rediscover his patented sparkle as the International Champions Cup rumbles on.
The game’s standout player after his introduction at the break. Isco was superb in the second period, bedevilling the Roma midfield with his intelligent movement and stunning technical ability. The Spanish international was at the heart of Madrid's most incisive play throughout the contest and will be hoping to become a key part of Benitez's setup moving forward.
Benitez was pleased with how his players performed in what was the first game of the club's pre-season and also commented on the system the team started the game in, per Alvaro De La Rosa of AS:
As always at the start of the pre-season, you have to bear in mind that we’ve only had five days to train. There were a few quite positive things to take from the match. We created chances which we didn’t put away and we have to continue making adjustments here and there. What we saw today was the result of five days’ work. ...
he system is the same, it is the players’ movements which actually define the system. As for the players, some have come back in better shape than others but the important part of the pre-season is doing the kind of work the team needs. In general, we were quite solid today