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Aside from the result itself, the biggest concern for Real Madrid to emerge from Sunday’s Clasico loss at Barcelona was the nature of their second-half performance.
In the opening period, Los Blancos played well. Although Barca enjoyed some periods in the ascendancy, so did the visitors and the half-time score of 1-1 was probably a fair reflection – although if either team deserved to be leading, it was Real following a particularly strong spell just before the break.
At times during that first half, Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked like the all-conquering record-breakers who demolished anything that was put in front of them during the autumn, when they chalked up 22 consecutive victories in mightily impressive style.
With Luka Modric back to control the tempo in midfield, Marcelo marauding dangerously from left-back, Gareth Bale performing with a disciplined balance between defence and attack, Karim Benzema roaming with classy intent and Cristiano Ronaldo all fired up, Los Blancos and their famed ‘BBC’ strike force were starting to resemble the team of old.
The opening stages of the second half were also encouraging enough, with Benzema forcing a decent save from Claudio Bravo, and the game at the Nou Camp was very much in the balance.
But then, somewhat against the run of play, Barca retook the lead through Luis Suarez and Madrid’s response – or, rather, their lack of one – was frightening.
It was as though a switch had been flicked and they had nothing left to give. Even though there was still more than half an hour remaining when Suarez struck, Madrid only once seriously threatened an equaliser over the entire remaining time when a hopeful shot from Benzema took a wicked deflection to draw an excellent save from Bravo.
Other than that, there was nothing. No concerted pressure, no late siege of Barca’s penalty area, not even hopeful balls into the box to force the hosts into alert defensive action – just a reliance upon Iker Casillas and wayward Barca shooting to prevent the margin of defeat from running much higher.
One particularly alarming statistic is the fact that Bale – who had played well if not spectacularly in the opening period – completed only two passes in the final half hour. For the most expensive player in the world, that is simply unacceptable.
Gareth Bale is doomed. Surely there’s no way he’ll be at Real Madrid next season. He’s been savaged by the Spanish press this morning.
— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) March 23, 2015
Not that Bale was alone in his ineffectiveness, with Ronaldo also fading from the game and Isco – so brilliant so often this season – failing to make an impact. Rather than a failure of individuals, Madrid’s final 30 minutes – as later noted by Modric – was a collective collapse, as they offered no conviction in their methods, with their attacks carrying a sense of hope rather than expectation.
This all reflects very badly on Ancelotti, whose days at the Bernabeu are starting to look numbered. Even if Madrid recover to finish the season with silverware, Ancelotti may well lack the energy to return to such a demanding, intense, and often downright irrational job for another year.
In his post-match press conference, Ancelotti, normally a positive presence, looked utterly drained. Mentally exhausted. The Italian looked – just as his team had on the pitch – as though he has nothing left to give. Expect a turbulent few months at the Bernabeu.
Germany’s winning World Cup manager Joachim Low has praised his side for the modesty and focus they showed in pursuit of the title, even after their triumphant 7-1 semi-final victory over hosts Germany.
In success, Germany became the first European side to win a World Cup on South American soil and the achievement has earned Low’s a nomination for the prestigious 2015 Laureus World Team of the Year award.
Mario Gotze, nominated for the World Breakthrough of the Year award, struck in extra-time of the World Cup final against Argentina last July to secure victory for Low and his side to earn a first title success for the reunified Germany.
Speaking to Laureus.com, Low said: “We are the first European team to have won a world football championship in South America. I think that was a marvellous achievement on the part of everyone involved. So we shall see. Naturally we would be delighted to win.”
— FIFAWorldCup (@FIFAWorldCup) March 13, 2015
Germany swept to success in style, defeating South American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina in the final two rounds as well as former champions France in the quarter-final.
While Germany were considered among the leading contenders for the title pre-tournament, the manner of their 7-1 success over hosts Brazil in the semi-final was considered a major shock.
Low, though, praised the attitude of his players who refused to get ahead of themselves despite their emphatic success over the favourites: “As the team coach it is all about getting the team into a mindset where we take one match at a time in phases.
“But after the game against France, when we had gone past the quarter-finals, I certainly had the feeling that anything was possible now. There were just four teams left in the contest, we had the quality and class and I felt that we had become more mature than we perhaps were in 2010 or 2012.
“After the 7-1 game against Brazil, when we were in the changing room after this really outstanding victory, I noticed that the team was relatively modest, there was no atmosphere of euphoria or overconfidence.
“Instead they all said to me ‘Coach, we have not achieved anything yet, we still have one match to go’ That gave me the feeling that perhaps the time had now come and we could do it.”
Having come so close to the title in both 2010, when they reached the semifinals, and at the 2012 European Championship where Germany reached the final, it was a major relief for Low and his side to finally get themselves over the line in the Maracana.
Speaking of his emotions following his side’s extra-time success over Argentina, Low said: “The sheer joy on the pitch, and afterwards in the changing room, was something I have never before experienced, and in some way it was also the reward for us all, for many, many years of hard work and intensive effort.”
Germany this week come together for the latest international window ahead of a friendly encounter with Australia and European Championship qualification fixture with Georgia.
Speaking of his side’s current development, Low added: “At present we are going through a period of change. A number of players who were leading personalities, both in terms of performance on and off the pitch, have now ended their careers. So a changeover is taking place to some extent.
“But where talented players and their quality are concerned, I firmly believe that we can be hopeful about the future and will remain at this high level.”