Para Siempre Blanco

Real Murcia 0-0 Real Madrid

 

Outnumbered

Real Madrid will have to wait until the 10th of November to find out if they will finally progress to the last 16 of the Copa Del Rey or not after drawing a blank at the Nueva Condomina against a very resilient Real Murcia side which like predicted prior to the game played for a draw. Despite the poor refereeing, the pathetic condition of the pitch and a very hostile bunch of players who were happy to take out the player if not the ball Real only have themselves to blame as they failed to capitalize on their potential superiority in a game which should have been a cakewalk considering the gulf in quality between the two teams.

The starting XI that Jose Mourinho put out signaled Real’s intention. Real had four world cup winners and a former world player of the year starting for them. Casillas was playing his first Copa game in 4 years and Ronaldo his first for Real. Albiol made his first appearance since getting injured early in the season and Sergio Ramos was back in the line up after missing a few weeks through injury. Diarra and Granero were considered as replacements for Alonso and Khedira with the latter starting on the bench and the former rested for the game along with Ozil, Marcelo and Carvalho – probably four of our best performers till now this season. Up front were Canales along with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema for whom this game was the perfect stage to prove himself and get his confidence back. Pedro Leon too started – on the right of midfield.

A former Murcia player himself, Pedro Leon won cheers from the crowd when his name was announced and the game kicked off. The initial few minutes saw Ronaldo entertain the crowd with his fancy footwork. But the players were not ready to let him do so as they went straight for his feet whenever he started dancing. Cristiano Ronaldo, who has a remarkable 44 goals in 46 games for Real Madrid, had the first chance of the game as a little exchange between him and Esteban Granero lead to his shot being parried away by Murcia’s goalkeeper, Dani Hernandez to safety. It seemed to me as though Inaki Alonso had done his fair share of home work as he employed the same tactics that Jose Mourinho used with his Inter Milan side last season when they faced Barcelona last season in the Champions League semi-final with Messi enveloped by three to five players whenever he had the ball and Inter themselves defending with 9 players. In this case it was Ronaldo who was marked by at least 5 red shirts and Murcia played with 6 at the back and three in front of the back six.

Such a strategy resulted in Canales playing deeper than one would have liked and also in players canceling out each other. One could have often seen Ronaldo and Canales fighting for the same ball and Pedro Leon and Granero in the same position. But still Real managed to retain almost all of the possession with Mahamadou Diarra being right at the center of things. Also, Real lacked the dynamism that the Alonso-Khedira partnership usually provides with Granero and Diarra being a fair bit more static and safe – it was clear that neither of them wanted to take even the slightest of risks. Karim Benzema, yet another player playing to save his place in the team failed to impress and looked out of sorts. Moreover the opposition’s style of play totally put off several of our players and the frustration was clearly visible in several of their faces. It was going to be one of those days. It looked as though the players were not familiar with each other and the team lacked the flow that was there last weekend. A couple of players did impress me though. Arbeloa and Pepe were brilliant I felt. Especially the former as he was playing at left back following weeks of playing as a right back. Arbeloa was there when you needed him – be it attack or defense.

Real continued to dominate possession but were unable to penetrate into their box. There were several efforts from range, a few saved and the rest parried away or deflected away to safety. The creativity of Alonso and Ozil was clearly missing. Canales, though potentially capable of creating good chances was unable to do so. Amaya seemed to have gotten the best of Karim Benzema as whenever the Frenchman got the ball the Murcian was all over him. And exactly when it looked as though we might just nick a goal, Esteban Granero’s shot from range hit the top of the crossbar after it comprehensively beat the goalkeeper. The move was started by Cristiano who played a good pass to Granero on the edge of the box and continued his run expecting a return pass from the El Pirata who had other things in mind. Quickly converting to his weaker foot he unleashed a shot which hit the woodwork and flew away resulting in a Murcia goal kick. Five minutes later, Pedro Leon’s magical first touch saw him race past the Murcia defense down the right wing and cross it over to a free Cristiano at the far post whose header across goal was met by no one. Benzema who was also inside the box was too close to CR to have gone for the ball. Wretched luck or poor thinking from Benzema? The chances continued to come in as this time, around the 40th minute mark, a Sergio Ramos cross was met by no one in the box. Real looked like they really are missing a number 9, someone who can win those crosses in the box. The first half was almost over when following a quick free kick Granero crossed into the box only for an open Raul Albiol to volley over the crossbar. That would be the best chance of the match for Real.

The second half started and there were no changes neither in personnel nor strategy. And the chances continued to come. This time it was the giant Malian in midfield who initiated the move. Benzema who played a quick exchange with Pedro fed the latter with a neat pass in the box which the Spaniard failed to meet. The refereeing was as debatable as it had ever been. Call it strict but the players were just not protected enough by the ref. Real started loosing the ball too easily but not a single move from Murcia materialized into a serious threat. Continuing with the flow, Ronaldo’s header after an interplay with Benzema was deflected away for a corner. Real won several corners throughout the game but the set pieces were absolutely pathetic. Blame the pitch but corners and indirect free-kicks are aspects which this team has to work on. Neither the desperate Benzema nor the other world class players in our ranks were enough to penetrate Murcia’s defense. It did look as though both the teams would maintain their undefeated status cometh the end of the game.

Murcia were the first to make a change bringing on the fox like Pedro in for Aquino. The substitute provided the much needed pace that they needed up front but didn’t trouble Sergio Ramos as much as the Murcia faithful would have liked. As a Madridista, you have to feel bad for Granero. He, like Benzema, has all the talent in the world to be a starter here at Real. Its high time the couple proves that form is temporary while class is permanent. And exactly when I was thinking Granero and Benzema need more time to regain their form Higuain and Khedira were brought in to replace the out of form duo. The two players who needed this game more than anyone else were taken off. With little more than half an hour left the game was heading nowhere. Mario Marin was replaced by Canadas with some hope that Murcia could pull off the unexpected. But it would be Dani Hernandez who would prove to be Murcia’s hero. Crisitiano Ronaldo’s free-kick from just outside the Murcia box saw Dani Hernandez pull off not one but two brilliant saves as the rebound fell to Pedro Leon who could have and should have slotted the ball in comfortably. But Dani Hernandez got in the way to make it a wonderful double save and keep Murcia in the game.

Mourinho then made Real’s third and final substitution around the seventieth minute mark when he brought on Angel Di Maria for Cristiano Ronaldo. Its fair to assume that JM didn’t retain Ronaldo till the end of the game keeping his fitness in mind but I think the substitution was more because of the lasers that were targeted at Ronaldo than the fatigue factor. I am unsure as to whether it was Ronaldo who was hindering Pedro Leon from participating more actively in the game but his substitution saw the former Getafe man lighten up and play a more productive role. With a little over fifteen minutes left Sergio Canales was booked for making a stupid challenge as the frustration kept growing as Real missed chance after chance. And it got worse. Canadas went down for no reason and the referee didn’t bother blowing the whistle. Pedro Leon, rightfully, continued playing and saw his wild shot from wide left just outside the box clip the top of the bar again. Murcia’s men were furious for him not kicking the ball out of play but then again after seeing Canadas get up and pretend as though nothing happened just after the play was over justified Pedro Leon’s actions. Kike was then replaced by Rosquete but to no effect. In the 20 minutes that Di Maria spent on the field he made Dani Hernandez pull off three good saves proving why he is probably our best player right now form wise. His first shot came after he dribbled past a couple of players as though they weren’t there and shot from an acute angle resulting in a corner. Just when I realized that Canales had gone AWOL since moving behind Higuain (who too has had almost nothing to do), a Pedro Leon corner was headed away from the box and fell to Di Maria whose effort was saved again. Pedro Leon’s corners were very poor and JM decided that enough was enough. Canales was assigned the duty of taking corners and his corner was even worse and yet again the ball was cleared away from the box. It again fell to Di Maria whose pile driver went straight into Dani Hernandez’s arms. You’ve got to love the Angel. He has been brilliant ever since joining us.

The final chance of the game fell in no man’s land. As agonizing as that sounds, yes, it did fall to nobody. Canales’ cross from the right (following yet another pathetic corner) was met at the far post by Pipita whose cushioning header across goal was cleared by Amaya. These are the kinds of chances that the players need to grab and we didn’t seem to have anyone waiting for them. The final whistle was blown and the match ended 0-0.

Following the match Jose Mourinho had this to say:

I am happy with the team. We played a serious match and tried to win. Any negative remarks out of my mouth go towards those who don’t try their hardest, but tonight that is not the case. I cannot say anything negative about my team. I am pleased with their performance despite the outcome. We always want to win.

We worked hard, played well and had plenty of chances to score. We had some limitations due to the fact we didn’t play with more creative players like Alonso and Ozil. I am satisfied with the way my men played. They did everything they could and that is all that matters.

Every team we play against closes up in defense. Racing played with five defenders, which wasn’t a problem. Murcia also played well. We didn’t win because the goalkeeper had a fantastic night. The pitch was in poor shape, just as it was against Levante.

If you look at the outcome from a two-leg perspective, this is pretty good. We will win at home and will move through to the next round. I am convinced we will win this tie.

The players too had a few words of their own. Pedro Leon, Pepe, Granero and Albiol all believe that we will progress to the next round.

Pedro Leon:

We played a good match but we weren’t able to win, but I am sure we will take care of business at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’s a shame we only managed to draw, but we played well. It was a tough game because Murcia closed up on defense and were very focused.

Pepe:

We worked hard tonight. The return leg won’t be easy but I am convinced that we will win the tie. The turf was dry and hard, which made playing very difficult. We played with a positive attitude and dominated the match despite the fact that Murcia were very motivated. We looked good and sought the win from the very start. I am sure we will win in the Bernabeu if we play like this.

Raul Albiol:

The team put in a solid effort and our attitude was much better than in previous years. We had some trouble when it came to creating plays, we weren’t able to score and we weren’t as fast as we would have liked to be, but we are committed to winning the return leg.

Esteban Granero:

This match has nothing in common with that against Alcorcon. Real Madrid players must play with the attitude we had tonight. We will go through if we play like this. We were very focused and had our chances, but the ball didn’t want to go in.

I too am confident that we can seal the deal come the second leg. But what I also like everyone else feel is that this is a game that we should have won. I wonder if it is the new XI that was fielded or whether it was the pitch and other conditions that caused us three points. Either way we have to wait till November 10 to know whether or not we will go through to the last 16 this year at least.

Match Stats:

Lineups:

Real Murcia: Dani Hernández, Gago, Luciano, Amaya, Óscar Sánchez, Carles, Richi, Albiol, Cañadas (Mario Marín 65′), Dani Aquino (Pedro 58′), Kike (Rubén Rosquete 79′);

Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Albiol, Arbeloa, Mahamadou Diarra, Pedro León, Canales, Granero (Khedira 63′), Cristiano Ronaldo (Di María 70′), Benzema (Higuaín 63′);

Notes: Copa del Rey, Last 32. Venue: Nueva Condomina. Attendance: 20,674.

Referee: Mr. Ayza Gamez

Booked: Diarra, Aquino, Carles, Canales

Man of the match: Cristiano Ronaldo

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