#360view: Madrid can be confident of success if star men are fit

Andy West 08:59 27/04/2016
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Star men: Karim Benzema (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo (R).

After an evening of gentle sparring but no knockout punch, the most important players in the first leg of this Champions League semi-final were the ones who finished it in the grandstand.

Cristiano Ronaldo was an onlooker from the start, while Karim Benzema and David Silva were both withdrawn through injury before the second half got underway.

And two of those absences, ultimately, were key to the outcome.

Silva’s unavailability for the second half was less significant because City had so little possession he would not have been in a position to influence the game.

But had Benzema and Ronaldo been fit and firing, Madrid would surely have taken advantage of an increasingly dominant performance by finding a winner.

After a cagey first half, Los Blancos asserted themselves after the interval, with Sergio Ramos’s unmarked header straight at Joe Hart proving to be the first of many presentable opportunities.

It wasn’t exactly kitchen-sink stuff, but the Spanish side were clearly growing in momentum, strength and confidence by the minute, with City increasingly reliant upon last-ditch challenges and excellent goalkeeping from Hart.

For the final half hour, indeed, the pattern of the game was heavily reminiscent of the recent Clasico, which saw Madrid produce a powerful finish to secure victory.

The difference on this occasion, however, was that neither of their Nou Camp goalscorers were on the pitch, and Madrid’s blank in front of goal was largely due to the fact that their two most potent marksmen were both injured.

Benzema and Ronaldo have combined for 74 goals this season and, considering their team’s second-half dominance, it is very easy to speculate they would have pounced for the vital away goal if they had been able to contribute.

Without a ‘B’ and the ‘C’ from their BBC front line, the solitary remaining ‘B’ did his best to lift the team, and there was no lack of effort or involvement from Gareth Bale, who flitted across all three forward positions in the second half in a bid to find space.

He was certainly more threatening than any single City player, with his several surging runs towards the box always looking capable of creating danger, but the absence of Bale’s fellow foraging forwards allowed City to pay him more attention than ever.

City, meanwhile, are bound to receive some criticism for not adopting a more adventurous approach or attempting to further capitalise on the loss of two of Madrid’s key players. But 0-0 is a decent enough result for the English side, whose ability to avoid conceding an all-important away goal could prove crucial.

Manuel Pellegrini and his players know there is a mountainous difference between a 1-1 draw and a 0-0 draw, and now City can prepare to adopt a counter-attacking approach in the Spanish capital, fully aware that Real will have to seize the initiative and should therefore leave more space to be exploited.

Last night’s stalemate was, however, also a decent outcome for the visitors because a draw away from home against high-class opposition can never be regarded as a bad result, and Madrid will strongly fancy their chances to finish the job at the Bernabeu next week.

They have, after all, won every Champions League home game this season, and they have done so without conceding a single goal in the process. City will be their sternest test yet, but that will not dent their confidence in the slightest.

They were the better team in the first leg, and will believe they can progress with comfort if they perform in a similar fashion in home surroundings. The grand ‘if’, of course, is whether last night’s injured duo will recover in time, which will be Zinedine Zidane’s biggest concern right now.

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