By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Mixed feelings for Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid. Another night of drama at the Santiago Bernabeu saw the Spanish side avoid a double Dortmund defeat, following their 2-1 loss in Germany late last month, but left doubts over the team’s ability to fulfil their Decima dream under the Portuguese coach.
Madrid’s fans will leave the Bernabeu on something of a high after Mesut Ozil’s late leveller, but Mourinho will be furious at how his side handed the initiative to the visitors in a quite dreadful opening 45 minutes.
Already playing catch up in La Liga and with their priorities firmly set on reclaiming European football’s finest trophy for the first time since 2002 (since which time Barcelona have claimed the title on three occasions), Mourinho’s men must do a lot, lot better than this.
So often Madrid seem to start slowly and gift the visiting team a head start and, while that may be usually harmless in La Liga, such slipshod showings will be punished at the very highest level. And Dortmund showed that.
The Germans deservedly went ahead against an insipid Madrid when Marco Reus found an enormous hole in the Madrid defence and lashed a fierce drive past Iker Casillas, who could and perhaps should have done better despite the venom on the shot.
The goal was hardly a surprise because Dortmund had twice come close. Madrid’s marking was all over the place and credit must go to the Germans, who were running them ragged.
Pepe crashed a header home at the other end to restore parity but the visitors retook the lead – and deservedly so – before the interval as Mario Gotze finished a move which had begun with a long punt from the goalkeeper. Raphael Varane was unable to cut out the ball in the air, Sergio Ramos was caught ball-watching and Alvaro Arbeloa could only chase back to help the ball into the back of the net. It was a comedy of errors, but you could bet Mourinho wasn’t laughing.
Nothing had worked for Madrid and it was no surprise to see changes after the interval. Gonzalo Higuain, who had been awful, was replaced by Jose Callejon, while Luka Modric – whose double-pivot partnership with Xabi Alonso failed miserably – gave way to the more combative Michael Essien.
Callejon soon had the ball in the net and was unfortunate to see his strike ruled out for offside, and Madrid dominated much of the remainder of the game as they set out on the front foot in search of a leveller. It looked as it would stay elusive but finally arrived in the dying minutes as Mesut Ozil’s free kick fooled Roman Weidenfeller and handed Real a reprieve as they not only avoid defeat but stay just a point behind Dortmund in Group D with two games left – against Ajax at home and Manchester City away.
On the overall balance of play, they had probably not deserved to lose and should now qualify comfortably from Group D. But lessons need to be learned as defensive deficiencies remain for Real, as well as lapses in concentration and even complacency. Tougher tests will await in the knockout stages and Madrid will need to raise their game against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and perhaps Dortmund again. On this evidence, the Decima dream looks a distant one.
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