By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It could have been worse for Real Madrid in the end, but it should really have been better. Jose Mourinho’s men held on in Manchester despite the dismissal of defender Alvaro Arbeloa and earned a point which was enough to send the Spanish side though to the last 16 of the Champions League in second place behind Group D winners Borussia Dortmund. Earlier on in the evening, however, victory should have been wrapped up.
Karim Benzema somehow found his way unmarked through three central defenders to poke home from close range early on and Cristiano Ronaldo – on his return to Manchester – came close with a lob which was cleared off the line. The Portuguese failed to score for a second successive match and his every touch was jeered by City’s faithful, quick to mock a high-profile United old boy. Ronaldo also proved too selfish at times but, in his defence, was given absolutely nothing all night by the referee. He wasn’t Madrid’s real culprit in any case, as that honour went to Sami Khedira.
The German took up excellent scoring positions, shooting wide and heading off target from two Cristiano crosses, then going clean through only to be denied by Joe Hart. He had been in the right place at the right time on several occasions, but was unable to capitalise.
It’s a familiar story for Mourinho’s Madrid. Khedira has scored only once this term and has just five goals in 94 appearances for Los Blancos.
The 25-year-old can of course be excused because he is a defensive midfielder by nature, but he could perhaps do better given that he is increasingly to be found in goalscoring positions.
Most of Madrid’s goals are netted by Ronaldo and the starting striker, be it Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain. But when these are unable to hit the target, as with Cristiano in the last two games, some help from further back would be useful.
None of Madrid’s middle men are prolific, however. Xabi Alonso is yet to score so far this term, having missed a penalty at Levante last weekend, and has hit the back of the net just six times in 163 games for Madrid. Mesut Ozil, meanwhile, is often employed further forward but unlikely to be a solution either, having netted 19 from 123 as a Madrid player – and only two in 2012-13.
Madrid fans had hoped that summer signing Luka Modric would bring more goals after his switch from Tottenham. However, the Croat chips in with very few strikes and never scored more than five in a season while at White Hart Lane.
Modric started on Tuesday and floated freely in space behind the attackers. He offers Madrid vision, technique and even tenacity in the centre of the park, but not goals. Like fellow summer signing Michael Essien, the 27-year-old opened his Madrid account with a goal in the 4-0 win over Zaragoza at the beginning of November but, aside from one deflected effort against City, he never looked likely to add to that sole strike.
Tactical tinkering, then, is unlikely to solve the issue; it appears more of a personnel problem for Mourinho, as he saw his side suffer much more than they needed to in his 100th Champions League match. Had Khedira converted one or two of those chances, Madrid would have been way out in front before City’s leveller. As it was, a dubious dismissal and penalty call saw them on the back foot in the final stages. So Madrid may be safely through, but, without a goal threat from midfield, Mourinho’s men might just be found wanting later on in this competition.
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