As Napoli became the latest team to discover this week, if you want to be successful against Real Madrid there’s one thing you need avoid at all costs: letting them have attacking set-pieces or corners.
Sergio Ramos’ dramatic double intervention on Tuesday’s Champions League tie was predictable, because Los Blancos – and Ramos in particular – are arguably the world’s most dangerous team when it comes to converting dead ball situations. Ramos, of course, is the scorer of the most famous goal in his club’s recent history: his stunning header in the 93rd minute of the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico Madrid tying the game at the last possible moment and setting up Real’s much longed-for tenth European crown.
And there are plenty more recent examples of the skipper’s impressive ability to net crucial goals from free-kicks and corners, including another Champions League final goal against Atletico last year, and the heroic captain’s late equaliser at the Nou Camp in December’s Clasico against Barcelona.
It’s not just Ramos, though, because other Madrid players to have scored from set-pieces in recent weeks include Karim Benzema (vs Eibar), Cristiano Ronaldo (vs Las Palmas), Alvaro Vazquez (vs Celta Vigo), Raphael Varane (vs Benfica) and Pepe (vs Osasuna).
So it’s clear that although Ramos is the leader of the pack, the Madrid team as a whole presents a major threat whenever they have the chance to throw the ball into the box. Some people aren’t impressed with this. Social media channels in the last 36 hours have been awash with complaints – mainly from Barcelona fans, funnily enough – that Madrid’s way of winning is lucky, boring and not real football, as though classily caressing the ball into the net after a slick five-man passing move is the only valid way of scoring.
That’s nonsense, firstly because it overlooks the fact that in order to score from a corner or free-kick, it is first necessary to have corners and free-kicks – and they can only result from a passage of attacking pressure. In the first half against Napoli on Tuesday, for example, Madrid didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate their penalty box prowess because they didn’t spend any time near it. They were being outplayed.
At half-time, though, Zinedine Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 formation, pushing Gareth Bale into a deeper midfield position, and the results were instant as Napoli struggled to execute their passing game and Madrid started to exert some attacking pressure.
That improvement in play resulted in two corners, which resulted in Ramos’s heroics, which resulted in the reigning European champions securing their place in the quarter-finals. As with penalties, scoring from set-pieces doesn’t happen by chance, and generally implies that the scoring team is in the ascendancy. Such success also requires two more ingredients: players who can deliver quality balls into the box, and other players who can attack those crosses.
Real Madrid broke one Barcelona record earlier this season when they went on a 40-game unbeaten streak and now, they’ve broken another.
Isco’s eighth minute strike against Las Palmas on Wednesday meant Los Blancos has scored in 45 straight games across all competitions, breaking a Spanish record held by Barcelona since 1944.
Madrid’s scoreless draw with Manchester City came in April 2016, in the first leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final.
It’s a remarkable streak made sweeter for Real Madrid fans because they can claim bragging rights over Barcelona once again.
You can see the full stat in the tweet below from our friends at WhoScored.
Real Madrid: Have now scored in each of their last 45 matches in all competitions; Man City were the last team to stop them scoring— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 1, 2017
When Cristiano Ronaldo first burst onto the scene, his claim to fame was his incredible flair.
His quick feet and ability to bamboozle defenders was his greatest asset and immediately endeared him to spectators, always pleased to be entertained.
But criticism soon followed as his end product was lacking. Early on in his Manchester United career, he was branded a circus act more than a future Ballon d’Or winner.
That’s when he knuckled down and started producing goals and assists, getting shots and passes away earlier. At Real Madrid though, he became a goal-scoring machine, cutting out most of the tricks in favour of efficiency.
But every now and then he does reach into his vast repertoire and pull out an absolute gem, which is what he did in Real Madrid’s La Liga clash with Espanyol, much to David Lopez’s misfortune.
In the 27th minute of the encounter with the tie deadlocked, Ronaldo received the ball down the left channel and proceeded to bamboozle his way past Lopez with an audacious elastico-nutmeg before playing the ball across the penalty area.
Madrid ended up winning the game 2-0 with Alvaro Morata and Gareth Bale scoring but Ronaldo’s little trick may well have been the most spectacular incident of the match.
Cristiano nutmegs Espanyol's defender in the most stylish way there is pic.twitter.com/l4JR50QHwK— SB (@Realmadridplace) February 18, 2017