Real Madrid managed to maintain the pressure on leaders Barcelona at the top of the table by claiming a 3-1 victory over Malaga at the Santiago Bernabeu but they certainly were made to work hard for the result.
It was by no means the prettiest of performances from Real but the win proved that they are able to hold their nerve when the going gets tough and in truth, everyone associated with Los Blancos would have been pleased with the final outcome of the clash.
The victory means that Real head into the all important Champions League return leg against Atletico Madrid in good nick and the next few matches will define whether the season will remain a dream or turn into a nightmare for the Spanish giants.
Five things we learned from the clash –
1. James Rodriguez delivers a master class at just the right time
In what was a distinctly average performance from Real, star midfielder James Rodriguez stood head and shoulders above the rest. The Colombian had been struggling to get going since returning from his injury but the performance against Malaga showed that he is returning back to his best.
With Benzema missing, Rodriguez was allowed freedom to move into his favoured advanced role behind the strikers and the return to his natural habitat meant that the 23-year old was able to flourish.
Rodriguez was the instigator of whatever good Madrid did in an attacking sense – especially during the second half and his goal was a thing of pure beauty. The attacking midfielder also had a role in Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal later in the game and the Malaga backline seemed totally incapable of dealing with his threat.
Rodriguez’s return to form could not be better timed as Madrid now square off against Atletico in the Champions League in midweek and it is a match where the Colombian star has to perform once again in order to help his side claim the all important goal that is required.
2. The Madrid backline did not cover themselves in glory
The final score line suggests that Madrid ran comfortable victors on the day but it was anything but the case and the poor performance of the backline did not help matters.
With the game against Atletico in mind, Carlo Ancelotti made a couple of changes to his backline by bringing in Pepe and Alvaro Arbeloa for Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal, and it was clear to see from the offing that the defence looked very penetrable.
Malaga’s Sergi Darder wasted a glorious opportunity to hand his side the lead by blazing over from 10 yards out after being handed too much space inside the box by the Madrid backline while the manner at which Marcelo was easily shrugged off by Roberto Rosales for Malaga’s only goal from Juanmi (who was also unmarked inside the box) was not a pleasing site to witness for the home faithful.
While Madrid may have gotten away with such mistakes against Malaga, they most certainly cannot afford a repeat against Atletico in midweek and Ancelotti will surely be drilling his players to put in a much improved defensive performance ahead of the clash.
3 .Injury to Modric, Bale and Benzema could jeopardize Madrid’s Champions League hopes
Madrid head into the clash against Atletico in midweek with bit of an injury crisis, as they are likely to be without the services of key trio Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
After Ronaldo, it would be fair to state that Modric, Bale and Benzema have been the top three performers in Madrid’s campaign so far and the potential of all the three players being ruled out for such a huge game will certainly be giving Ancelotti a selection headache.
In addition even Marcelo will be suspended for the clash while Madrid will be counting their lucky stars after UEFA did not take retrospective action against Dani Carvajal for his blatant punch on Mario Mandzukic.
Given the side of Madrid as a club and how much they have spent in strengthening the squad, putting a strong first XI will not be a problem for Ancelotti but the loss of at least four key men ahead of probably the most important match of the season is surely not ideal – even for one of the biggest sides in the world.
4. Isco needs to step up to the plate
With Luka Modric all but certain to miss the clash against Atletico, Isco will have to step up to the plate once again.
During the long layoff that Modric suffered earlier on in the campaign, Isco performed admirably and was arguably one of the best players in Madrid’s brilliant winning run.
Since the return of Modric though, Isco has been in and out of the team and even when he has been handed an opportunity to start, the youngster has not covered himself in glory – with the abject performance against Malaga yesterday a perfect case in point.
Everyone in Madrid knows and believes that Isco is capable of producing great moments and they will certainly be hopeful that the 22-year old can draw on his early season inspiration to sufficiently negate the loss of Modric on Wednesday night.
5. Hernandez must be allowed to step up to the plate
To epitomize Carlo Ancelotti’s lack of faith in Javier Hernandez, the Mexican striker was once again consigned to the bench despite the absence of Karim Benzema due to injury.
Apart from Benzema’s absence, Hernandez had delivered a fine goalscoring performance in Madrid’s victory over Eibar and it would be fair to state that the striker deserved another chance to start – at least in La Liga.
Nonetheless, Hernandez was presented with an opportunity to prove his worth once again after Gareth Bale was forced off injured early due to a calf problem and it has to be said that the 26-year old did not let his side down.
Hernandez looked intent on making an impact and he did well in front of goal to fashion a couple of good openings for his side. The striker also did wonderfully to set up Cristiano Ronaldo late on into the game and he was arguably one of the better players on the pitch during the clash.
Therefore, with Benzema and Bale potentially missing out against Atletico due to injury – Hernandez absolutely needs to start alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. Hernandez may not be the most spectacular of players but he works very hard for the team and more importantly, he always has a crucial goal in his locker.