Para Siempre Blanco

Hercules CF 1-3 Real Madrid

Karim Benzema (#9) produced a stellar performance in the 13 minutes that he was given.

Real Madrid remain at the top of the table and will remain there until next week at least as a late brace from Cristiano Ronaldo helped Los Merengues stage a marvelous comeback after going a goal down just three minutes into the game. Trezeguet’s header in the second minute was neutralized eight minutes into the second half when Calatayud spilled Ronaldo’s shot from range only for Angel Di Maria to tuck in the rebound. Real had to wait till the eighty second minute to take the lead through Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portuguese was assisted by Karim Benzema who played a pivotal role after coming on late in the second half. Ronaldo sealed the victory with another goal through yet another assist from Benzema three minutes later making sure that Jose Mourinho’s men left the Jose Rico Perez with all three points in the bag.

Jose Mourinho made seven changes to the side that started against Murcia midweek in the Copa Del Rey with Carvalho, Marcelo, Khedira, Alonso, Ozil, Di Maria and Higuain replacing Albiol, Arbeloa, Diarra, Granero, Canales, Pedro Leon and Benzema respectively. Real stuck to the usual 4-2-3-1 formation with the trio of Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria playing behind Higuain. Hercules deployed a similar formation which saw Trezeguet play the central role up front just ahead of Valdez, Tiago and Thomert.

Hercules dominated the first couple of minutes and were given a dream start when Cortes’ cross from the right was met by a waiting David Trezeguet. The former Juventus man’s looping header defeated Saint Iker raising questions as to why there wasn’t a single white shirt challenging for the ball inside our own box. And as a result Real Madrid went down by a goal for the first time this season. A comeback was mandatory if three points had to be taken.

The fan support for the Alicante club was tremendous as the crowd tried their best to make sure that Real never really got into the groove. Credit, though, must be given to Hercules for not trying to sit on their lead and for making it a compelling contest. I felt that Real were losing the ball quite easily unlike the previous games. Hercules though didn’t capitalize on it and continued to give the ball back. Real slowly started looking like the side that beat Santander 6-1 and started making use of the superior possession as the game progressed. Hercules were happy to have little possession of the ball and it looked as though their plan was to counter attack Real on the break. But the tiring legs of Trezeguet and the Valdez’s agility was well matched by the Portuguese central defenders.

With a little over twenty minutes gone Real had their first real chance on goal. Cristiano’s shot from distance was parried by Calatayud and his save fell right into the feet of Higuain whose low curling shot went straight to the keeper. And almost instantly Hercules almost had their second goal. Cortes released Tiago Gomes on the right hand side of midfield and Gomes’ searching cross fell to Thomert on the other side of the box. Thomert somehow managed to cross the ball over to Trezeguet to the center of the six yard box and thankfully his header was directed straight at Saint Iker. Close call and yet again Trezeguet was left unmarked. JM clearly was upset.

Trezeguet seemed to provide Hercules with what Real currently lack. Aerial Prowess. Throughout the game one can see several crosses from the likes of Di Maria, Alonso and Marcelo fall into no man’s land as only Ronaldo has the ability in our front four to meet such crosses. Higuain as we all know cannot head to save his life. Either Real should stop wasting possession by crossing or go out there and get a real #9.

Half an hour had gone by and some good passing by Real led to Higuain crossing for Ronaldo to shoot into an open goal only to be blocked Cortes in a last ditch effort. It wasn’t the best of chances but that was all that we had. Hercules’ wide players and especially Thomert was posing a serious threat to the Real defense. Sergio Ramos unlike Arbeloa was concentrating more on attacking duty that defensive ones. Real on the other hand had failed to make any use of the possession that they had and the game was nearing the halfway mark. It looked as though Hercules were playing to Esteban Vigo’s script. A minute was added on to the first half and Real’s last attack would be Marcelo’s low shot which went wide. It was half time and the Alicante crowd went frantic.

The second half started with no changes made by either side but that wouldn’t last long as Olivier Thomert was stretchered off after the Frenchman had pulled a muscle or so it seemed. Sendoa replaced him and in the meantime Di Maria had tested Calatayud twice within a span of 60 seconds. A minute later the Argentine got the better of the custodian as Cristiano’s shot from range was too hot for the keeper to hold. But the spill would be costlier. Di Maria tucked in the rebound and Real were level with a little more than 40 minutes to play. Real should have rightfully gone ahead when Xabi Alonso’s beautiful long ball left Ronaldo one on one with the keeper but the number 7 was adjudged to be offside when in fact he wasn’t.

The match was sixty five minutes old when Xabi Alonso was booked for stretchering off Abel Aguilar. The player was hurt but was fit enough to continue and Vigo then decided to make his second change of the game. One veteran for another and Francisco Rufete, the former Valencia and Espanyol winger was brought in for the goal scorer Trezeguet. Real continued to dominate possession and had several half chances but it looked like one of those days when you dominate a game but still end up with nothing. A few minutes later an Ozil corner was headed straight at Calatayud (I just love typing that name) by Sergio Ramos and that was as close as we could get. Hercules then brought on former Madridista Javier Portillo on for Nelson Valdez who was injured by the ball and had to be stretchered off.

A change was on the cards as Karim Benzema suited up on the sidelines. He was brought in for Pepe (when everybody thought it would be Higuain who would be taken off) showing how intent Real were on bagging three points. But why Benzema I am sure many Madridistas wondered. The French striker was coming under immense criticism for underperforming and was coming out of a poor show against Murcia in the King’s Cup game. And just then the number 9 played a quick exchange with little Marcel inside the Hercules box and took a shot which Calatayud spilled straight to the waiting Cristiano Ronaldo who was happy to slot home his 11th goal in 8 games this month alone. Benzema had made an immediate impact against a team at a ground in which he scored a brace only a couple of months back and his team mates clearly showed how happy they really were with him.

JM immediately brought in Arbeloa and Albiol for Ozil and Higuain with Marcelo moving to midfield and Sergio Ramos was playing right back again. The clock struck eighty five minutes and a Sergio Ramos stole the ball from Hercules and released Di Maria who set Benzema free into their box. Ronaldo was waiting inside the box and Benzema made the right pass for the Portuguese to score his 12th goal of the season making October 2010 the best ever month in his illustrious career. Benzema’s second assist in ten minutes of coming on. Game, set and match Real Madrid. Ronaldo should have and could have scored his third of the night when a combined effort from Di Maria and Benzema put Ronaldo through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat which he did but shot high over the bar. It wouldn’t matter as Real completed a well fought victory over a very good side which fought right till the end.

Mourinho had this to say about the match:

The first half was very complicated because our opponent was aggressive. I didn’t like Hercules’ goal because I talked to my players about efforts such as the one it came from. We were practically alone playing football during the second half. We increased our defensive efforts. The most important thing is we took three points that keep us at the top of the table for another week.

Hercules are having a good run in the championship and they have players who are very good at playing this sort of game. Their fans were very supportive of them, adding intensity to their game, which relied on fast ventures in attack. We took risks and everything tastes better when you risk and also win. We had to win this game.

He was quick to appreciate Benzema’s performance and also commented on the fact that Mano Menenzes did not call up Marcelo for Brazil’s upcoming friendly against Argentina in Doha.

Benzema didn’t score, but he created three goals: the first, the third and a possible fourth Cristiano could have netted. He was an extra help in attack and became a new problem for Hercules to solve. He completely changed the game’s dynamics. He may not have scored, but his influence on our game was enormous. This performance will be good for his morale. I am very happy for him.

Marcelo has been playing fantastically well since the start of the season. He has more time to recover because he hasn’t been called-up by Brazil. This is better for us but worse for Brazil, who miss out on having a full back of his quality. This may help him play the whole season at this level.

Director General Jorge Valdano shared his satisfaction with the victory.

We played a tough match tonight. Hercules defended well and had strong counter-attacks during the first half. We controlled the game better in the second part and won thanks to our insistence. This is the first time we’ve had to turn the score around this season and it will be useful to boost our confidence and to carry on working the way we do.

Hercules scored early in the game and we grew anxious. We controlled the game better after we scored our first strike. We pulled through thanks to our insistent attitude.

The players then commented on their performance with Ronaldo heaping praise on Benzema as well as talking about his current rich vein of form. He revealed that it was Mourinho’s half time talk that changed things around. Di Maria too was delighted with the win and said that the team will shift its focus to Milan.

Cristiano Ronaldo:

I’m in great form and having a phenomenal run. I scored goals and I’m happy because we are still leaders. The team played well after half-time, doing the never-easy task of scoring three goals. I am also very happy for Benzema. He played a decisive role and assisted me in our third goal.

Mourinho gave perfect and correct orders during half-time that changed the team. Everything has to work on the pitch, it isn’t enough to attack well. Everything we did in the second half was perfect and that’s why we won.

Di Maria:

I am very happy. Winning was what really mattered. We deserved it because we changed in the second half and did our best to win. These are the games that help you win titles. We had to win whatever the cost. I’m happy because the fans support me. I always try to do my best. I play to help the team do well. I’m happy for the victory and we will start to think about Milan tomorrow.

Along with Xabi and Iker, Benzema too spoke to the media post-game. While the captain was appreciative about the roles of Mourinho and Benzema, Xabi insisted that the team should now try and seal their passage to the next round of the Champions League with a win over Milan midweek.

Benzema:

Whenever we speak, Mourinho always tells me I can do much for the team on the pitch. People will realise I am a good player, I just need to play. Before the game, I told the coach I was going to work to play more.

Casillas:

The important thing is we continue to win and to be at the top. Real Madrid were different in the second half from the team they were in the first. Our mentality changed. Our reaction to losing against a difficult opponent was also important. We played at a small and complicated venue.

We are all very happy for Benzema. He deserved to play this well after having to listen to endless comments about him during the past week.

Mourinho is a phenomenon because he controls each half very well and always knows how to say the right thing at the right time. Our reaction in the second half was due in part to what he said in the dressing room and to the successful substitutions he made.

Alonso:

We know every point dropped could eventually be decisive. That’s why these three are so important. We will also try to seal our pass to the next round in the Champions League in Milan this week.

In all it was a good win. A new kind of victory somewhat so to speak as this was our first comeback win of the season. The rarer the better I’d say. I am very happy with Benzema’s performance in particular. He came on and worked hard for the ball and almost whatever he did was productive. I hope he continues to work the same way and give Pipita a good run for his money. Its time to focus on Milan now as Real heads to the San Siro on Tuesday. A win there would take us through. A draw should also do. But I am looking at revenge and hence I would love for Real to get all three points when they get back home.

Match Stats:

Hércules: Calatayud, Cortés, Pamarot, Rodríguez, Peña, Abel Aguilar, Fritzler, Tiago Gomes, Valdez (Portillo 82′), Thomert (Sendoa 51′), Trezeguet (Rufete 70′);

Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Carvalho, Pepe (Benzema 77′), Marcelo, Alonso, Khedira, Ronaldo, Ozil (Arbeloa 85′), Di Maria, Higuain (Albiol 85′);

Goals:

1-0, 3′: Trezeguet
1-1, 53′: Di Maria;
1-2, 82′: Ronaldo;
1-3, 85′: Ronaldo;

Notes: La Liga, Matchday 9.

Venue: Jose Rico Perez

Referee: Mr. Clos Gomez

Booked: Carvalho, Marcelo, Alonso;

Man of the match: Karim Benzema

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