Madrid’s defensive vulnerability costs them
If Real Madrid are to be genuine Champions League contenders, then they must eradicate the defensive frailties that currently run through the team. In La Liga, you can more or less get away with it.
Not in Europe, though. There’s no hiding place and you will get punished for lapses in concentration at key points of the game. For Juventus’ first goal, young and emerging central defender Raphael Varane stupidly dived into the back of Paul Pogba, knowing very well he wasn’t going to reach the ball. It was an entirely needless tackle to make as Pogba was heading for a tight angle in which to shoot. Juventus scored, albeit with a stunning spot kick from Arturo Vidal, and Carlo Ancelotti’s men were on the back foot. For the hosts’ second, it was again Varane who was the culprit as he got tangled up with Fernando Llorente who possess great aerial prowess. It was a relatively straightforward cross from the right but Varane’s positioning and concentration let him down. That proved telling as Madrid left Turin with a point – an important point – but there’s no doubting they could well have headed home with all three. Especially after working so hard to come back from a goal down. All credit to Juventus for capitalizing on their opponent’s errors, but if Madrid are to secure passage to the knockout phase they really must shore things up defensively and cut out costly errors. Iker Casillas, stepping in for the incumbent Diego Alves, produced a string of world-class saves and if it wasn’t for his athleticism and bravery in between the sticks the end result could have been a whole lot different. Sergio Ramos slotted in at right-back, although he’s far more adept in the middle of defence. With Alvaro Arbeloa on the bench, it begs the question why Ancelotti didn’t opt for him instead, a natural right-back. For Varane, he endured a tough night but there’s no doubting his ability and promise. He’ll learn from Tuesday night and as his manager said after the game: “I think nobody can ask him to be perfect: he is 20, he will make mistakes. He will be one of best in the world.” Talk about encouragement.
Paul Pogba is really rather good
As if you didn’t know already, Paul Pogba is quite superb and his performance against Madrid only reinforced his reputation as one of the brightest talents in global football. Formerly on the books of Manchester United – who must be kicking themselves for letting him leave – the gangly Frenchman, only 20, had a storming night. Capable of exquisite touches, formidable long-range shots and passes that make your jaw drop, he’s played an integral role in the team since his arrival in early August last year. Pogba won the penalty after drawing Varane in, linked up well with the strikers and always looked a threat out wide. I followed this summer’s Under-20 World Cup closely and Pogba spearheaded France’s ascent to the Final, where they saw off Uruguay on penalties. With just three caps for the seniors, he is sure to earn more with next year’s World Cup fast approaching. A stand-out for both club and country.
Bale starting to find feet after tricky start
With no pre-season under his belt, it was always going to be a tricky adaption for Gareth Bale making the move to Madrid. Clearly lacking in fitness, his appearances for the side have been sporadic but promising. His powerful strike to fire Ancelotti’s men into the lead, after cleverly shifting the ball to his favoured left foot, will do him the world of good. That was his fifth Champions League goal in 12 matches. In 4-5 weeks he should be back to full fitness and playing the sort of terrific stuff the Tottenham fans adored him for. So far, he has played it simple and just tried to avoid picking up an injury, which is understandable. But with so much pressure circulating his transfer, he’ll have to start delivering domestically, too. With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema around him he should have no problem. It was interesting to see the free-kick incident in the second-half when Ronaldo and Bale were discussing who should take the set-piece. It was a left-footer’s angle, but of course, Bale was overruled and the Portuguese – still perceived to be the star despite Bale’s presence – stepped up. They combined well on the night, interchanging and zipping the ball at each other with assurance, but Bale will have to wait patiently until he earns the respect of his new teammate. It seems you can’t just walk in and demand priority. You must earn it, like Ronaldo.