Karanka praises Real Madrid's defensive solidarity against Celta Vigo

Aitor Karanka - Real Madrid

Goal.com / Shinichiro Ema

Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka has pointed out the fundamental role his defenders played during Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Celta, especially given the enforced absence of key members at the back.

Midfielder Michael Essien and youngster Raphael Varane impressed against the Primera Liga minnows, and drew praise from Jose Mourinho’s backroom team.

“The back four played very well. Celta only had one header at the end of the match,” Karanka declared to reporters after the match.

“Ramos knew his position, Varane fulfilled his role and Pepe played like he always does.

“We signed Essien because he is a player that the manager knows very well, and because of the various positions he can play in, which he fulfilled well tonight too.

“Today was an important match after the international break and the response of the team as a whole is what we expected.”

Meanwhile, there is likely to be further speculation about the future of Brazilian playmaker Kaka after the 30-year-old was hauled off at half-time during the game.

However, Karanka played down any talk of the former AC Milan midfielder not being favoured, claiming his switch at the break was purely down to technical reasons.

“The substitution was due to a decision to employ a more standard system with [Angel] Di Maria and [Mesut] Ozil,” he explained.

Ramos: Madrid should have scored more goals

Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos believes that with a little more luck his team could have recorded a scoreline reflective of their superiority, following their 2-0 victory at home against Celta Vigo.

Goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo in either half proved enough for the Spanish champions to overcome the Primera Division minnows, but Jose Mourinho’s men were guilty of a degree of profligacy in a game they could have won more comfortably.

“This result could have been better if we had more luck,” admitted Ramos to reporters after the match. “We ought to forget about it however, because the job has already been done.

“The league is still very long. No one can mathematically win the title at this point, and anything can still happen.”

Madrid fielded a defensive back-line in which Michael Essien was fielded as an unorthodox full-back, but Ramos believes the rearguard performed to the same degree of aplomb that supporters had grown accustomed to.

“Essien and I have played at the top level for a very long time, and so are equally at ease on the flanks. Injuries have made us adapt, and confidence is very high in the squad.”

Celta boss Paco Herrera was left with no doubt to his host’s pedigree on the night, conceding that his team were fighting a losing battle from the start.

“We couldn’t string together passes in the first 30 minutes. We had no options. They were just better than us,” recalled the 58-year-old.

The Bernabeu outfit’s latest victory lifts them to fourth place in the Primera Liga, just five points behind early leaders Barcelona.

Real Madrid 2-0 Celta Vigo: Higuain & Ronaldo clinch straightforward win

A goal each from Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo gave Real Madrid a relatively comfortable 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo in the Spanish Primera Division on Saturday evening.

It was by no means a vintage performance from Los Blancos, but a dominance of the ball throughout the match enabled the Argentine and Portuguese attackers to net in what was a largely forgettable encounter at Santiago Bernabeu.

Jose Mourinho’s men controlled the play in the opening stages of the match, but although plenty of possession was held in the midfield area, there was a lack of goalmouth action to get the Santiago Bernabeu faithful off their seats.

However, their dominance of the ball paid off in the 11th minute in fortuitous circumstances. Higuain found space on the left-hand side and attempted to get the ball into the box, but his attempted cross floated over the head of Celta goalkeeper Javi Varas, who appeared to be fooled by the flight of the ball.

The hosts continued their patient build up play for the first quarter of the match, and should have doubled their advantage in the  minute when Higuain found himself on the wing again to dink a cross into the centre for Ronaldo, but the Portuguese powered his header over the bar from just outside the six yard box.

Celta began to grow more into the match as the second half went on, and Iago Aspas looked the most likely to grab a goal back for the visitors. The 25-year old had a couple of decent strikes at goal from the edge of the box, with one attempt forcing Iker Casillas into a smart save in 26th minute

Madrid’s play in the first 20 minutes of the second period was lacklustre to say the least, with passes going astray too often and Ronaldo in particular guilty of languishing in possession too often when the ball was in the final third.

Despite playing within themselves, the home side were gifted an opportunity to double their lead in the 67th minute when Gustavo Cabral got the wrong side of Mesut Ozil inside the area and brought the German to the floor with a push to the back. A penalty kick was awarded and Ronaldo stepped up confidently to dispatch into the bottom left corner.

Having withdrawn Kaka at half-time for Angel Di Mara, Jose Mourinho flexed his squad muscles further with just under 20 minutes to go when he introduced Jose Callejon in place of Ozil, and the substitute almost made an immediate impact when he latched on to a Higuain pass down the inside right channel only to see his shot flash by the left-hand post.

The 25-year old was impressive after coming on, and had another opportunity to get his name on the scoresheet in the 78th minute when he drifted beyond the Celta defence and took down Sergio Ramos’ pass over the top before turning swiftly and lashing a strike at goal, but his attempt was stopped by the legs of Javi Varas.

Real Madrid now move within five points of league leaders Barcelona, with the Catalan side facing Deportivo on Saturday evening. Celta Vigo remain in the bottom half of the table with nine points taken from eight matches.

TEAM NEWS: Kaka to start for injury-ravaged Real Madrid against Celta

Brazil star Kaka will start for Real Madrid as they look to pick up three home points against Celta.

The playmaker starts alongside Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time in a Blancos team severely affected by the last round of international fixtures.

The former AC Milan man was on top form for his country over the past week, scoring against both Iraq and Japan as the friendly opponents were blown away 6-0 and 4-0 by the South Americans.

. Injuries to Marcelo, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao have left Madrid extremely short in the full-back department, so midfielder Michael Essien is drafted in to play on the left side of defence. On the other flank, 19-year-old Frenchman Raphael Varane is Mourinho’s choice.

Gonzalo Higuain also makes a return to the first team in an attack-minded formation.

For the visitors, late fitness tests for Nacho Insa and Andres Tunez saw the former fail to make Saturday’s clash. The defender, meanwhile, weas declared fit to play and will start in the middle of the back four.

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Varane, Ramos, Pepe, Essien; Alonso, Modric; Ozil, Kaka, Ronaldo; Higuain.

Substitutes: Di Maria, Benzema, Nacho, Adan, Callejon, Carvalho, Albiol.

Celta (4-3-3): Varas; Mallo, Cabral, Tunez, Lago; Oubina, Alex Lopez, Bustos; Augusto, Aspas, Krohn-Delhi.

Substitutes: Park Chu-Young, Toni, Bellvis, Varas, Bermejo, Lucas, Samuel.

Why Barcelona & Madrid's defensive difficulties could decide the outcome of La Liga

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Forwards, it is often claimed, decide games, but it is defenders who win championships. So while all eyes are on the amazing array of attacking talent at Barcelona and Real Madrid, including the usual suspects Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it may be the men further back – or lack thereof – who will define the destiny of La Liga in 2012-13.

The Blaugrana‘s problems are well-documented. The Catalan club decided against signing a specialist centre-back in the summer and have subsequently seen Marc Muniesa, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique sidelined by injury – as well as long-term absentee Eric Abidal. Muniesa, of course, was never going to play much of a part, but the Masia graduate would have been useful in the absence of the other two centre-backs.

Pique is set for a timely return from a foot problem after missing the Clasico – in which Barca began with the untried partnership of Javier Mascherano and Adriano, and then lost another of their back four, Dani Alves, with a hamstring strain. Puyol, meanwhile, is out for two months with a dislocated elbow and, although he is currently negotiating a new deal, the club’s captain never appears far from the treatment room these days.

In the absence of Puyol and Pique, Alex Song has been filling in alongside Mascherano at times, meaning the Catalans have started some games with two midfielders – plus Alves and Adriano – at the back. It’s hardly a natural back four.

Sergio Busquets is another alternative and the midfielder played twice at the back for Spain in the recent international break. Should he drop deeper, however, he will need to be replaced by either Song or Mascherano in his customary position.

Tito Vilanova has admitted that Song was his signing, not a player recommended to him from above, and despite his far-from-faultless form in the transfer market, it remains difficult to imagine predecessor Pep Guardiola recruiting the Cameroonian. Yes, Seydou Keita left in the summer, but a look at the list of priorities at Camp Nou should have shown quite clearly that a defender was what was needed above all else – not yet another midfielder who can play – at a push – in defence.

In that respect, Barca failed to learn the lessons from last season when the likes of Busquets and Mascherano were exposed away from home or against top opposition. Why take the risk again? La Liga was lost for the Catalans away from home last term as they dropped 18 points on the road. And it could happen again, despite their sublime start to the current campaign.

However, Tito’s team take a healthy eight-point lead over Real Madrid into the eighth round of Primera Division games and, even though Los Blancos claimed a deserved draw to stop Barca in their tracks in the recent Clasico, they remain under pressure to stay in touch.

And Jose Mourinho’s men have problems of their own following an international week in which they lost not one, or two, but three full-backs to injury.

First, Fabio Coentrao picked up a groin problem in Portugal’s 1-0 defeat to Russia in Moscow, then Marcelo injured his metatarsal in training and, finally, Alvaro Arbeloa was laid low with a muscle strain as Spain drew 1-1 with France on Tuesday.

The Portuguese and the Spaniard will be out for a number of weeks, while the Brazilian is sidelined for several months, leaving Mourinho with a selection headache for Saturday’s match at home to Celta. The 49-year-old could choose to switch Sergio Ramos to right-back, bring in Raphael Varane alongside Pepe in the centre and use either Nacho or youngster Jorge Casado on the left, or bring in Michael Essien on the right and move Ramos across to the other side. He has options, but with Madrid already eight points behind and faltering on set pieces, it is a decision he must get right. Marcelo, meanwhile, has claimed he will keep smiling despite his injury. And Madrid fans will hope their team can smile without him, too.

So it may be early days in the title race, but defensive difficulties could yet decide the outcome of La Liga. And the team that copes the best may well be the one celebrating the title come next June. Tito, Jose – over to you.

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