Real Madrid earned an enthralling victory over Schalke 04 at the Veltins-Arena in Germany, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Benzema all sharing two goals each.
In Real Madrid’s 25 previous matches away from home in Germany, they only recorded one win and six draws. Those 25 matches have spanned back from 1966, all the way up until today. Los Blancos have now eliminated their past demons in Germany by demolishing Schalke 04 at their home.
With Ronaldo returning to action, the Portuguese made sure to make his return a memorable one. His reactions when he hit post in the beginning of the match displayed a hungry Ronaldo, indeed. It wouldn’t be until the second half where he would grab his two goals, as Benzema and Bale struck first.
In a crucial away fixture, Ancelotti’s men responded with authority, dominance, and a consistent swagger not seen since Mourinho’s 11/12 La Liga winning squad. So, what did we learn from today’s Champions League encounter?
1) Ancelotti & Co.: The Unsung Heroes
Behind every great team, there’s a great coach. Make no mistake, Carlo Ancelotti is one of the biggest, if not biggest, reasons Real Madrid are in sizzling form.
Firstly, the Italian coach, since arriving to the capital, has brought an aura of calmness around his squad. The ability to keep your squad calm, compact, and more importantly, cohesive on the field is hard enough, but he has accomplished this with his men this season. As opposed to Mourinho’s gritty Real Madrid in the previous years, Ancelotti has opted to stay focused only on football. Post game interviews are not intended for mind games, nor are they reasons to conjure weekly drama episodes as Mourinho did.
Secondly, and more importantly, it’s Ancelotti’s tactics that have excelled Real Madrid into the cohesive team we see today. Abandoning Mourinho’s double-pivot system in favor for a simpler 4-4-2 has worked wonders for Los Blancos out on the field. It also helps that Real Madrid’s defense has been outstanding this season as well. An unbeaten run spanning from early October — 22 wins in 26 games from all competitions — demonstrates Ancelotti’s effective tactics.
Thirdly, the assistant coach: Zinedine Zidane. A piece written by ESPN columnist, Sid Lowe, describes the profound effect the Frenchman has had on the squad. Lowe compliments Zidane’s method of coaching by doing one-on-one sessions between players during training. It’s this, the luxury of having an ex-player like Zidane, that facilitates youngsters’ growth such as Jese and Varane. There is undoubtedly a resurgence in Real Madrid’s coaching philosophy — one that focuses on the development on youngsters, while focusing on playing to their strengths in each position.
2) Second Best Real Madrid
At the moment, the only team who is better than Los Blancos is, unsurprisingly, Pep’s Bayern Munich. With more than a 20 point difference between them and second place in the Bundesliga, the Bavarians are steamrolling opposition at the moment under the Spaniard.
However, to be the best, you must beat the best. A meeting between Madrid and Bayern would be what the fans have been dreaming for since Los Balncos’ 2012 fallout of the European competition. The last time these two met was two years ago, under Jose Mourinho, where his men fell to the Germans on penalties at the Allianz Arena. The next year would see Madrid exit early, at the hands of Dortmund instead. As for this year, we still don’t know.
If the two were to face off in the quarter-finals, it would be Madrid’s final litmus test as to whether they are, indeed, the best in Europe. Oh, and they are also chasing the coveted tenth Champions League title — La De…wait, let’s not jinx their possible tenth title, shall we?
3) Take a bow Ronaldo, Bale, and Benzema
Each goal from the trio was beautiful in their own way, usually highlighting Real Madrid’s strengths in attack.
For example, take Gareth Bale’s first goal. It all started from Benzema’s pressure, which led to a regain in possession to allow him to slip Bale in on the right wing. The Welshman then danced by Schalke’s Santana and Kolasinac beautifully and finished with authority. Ronaldo then came running to Bale to congratulate him. The whole play sums up how effective Los Blancos can be when not in possession.
Additionally, Benzema’s second goal was, too, beautifully crafted. The one-two exchange between Ronaldo and Benzema was precise, cheeky, and more importantly, clinical. Benzema’s finish was reminiscent to that of Ronaldo’s one-on-one runs against goalkeepers. When Madrid are playing with as much fluidity from today’s match, they are one of the most lethal teams on the counter.
Finally, Ronaldo’s two goals exemplified one thing: his dominance as a player. Both of his goals were, simply put, unstoppable. The ability he has to fearlessly take on defenders is both a joy watch and a ‘How did he do that?!’ type of feeling that leaves us wanting more.
With Athletico Madrid on Ancelotti’s radar this coming weekend in La Liga, Los Blacos will be high on confidence for two legitimate reasons: one, they recently pulverized Diego Simeone’s men in the Copa del Rey semi-final 5-0 on aggregate, and two, they have finally hurdled over their previous demons in Germany by beating Schalke 6-1.