Real Madrid kept their hopes of defending the Champions League title alive by claiming a 1-0 victory over rivals Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night but as the score line suggests, the victory was anything but a straightforward one.
Having been frustrated by the solid Atletico side for majority of the tie, it was Javier Hernandez who grabbed a dramatic winner on the 88th minute of the game which sent the crowd at the Bernabeu into delirium and now there is a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the Madrid camp that they can in fact become the first team ever to defend the Champions League title in the modern era.
Three things we learned from the clash –
1. Javier Hernandez deserves his special moment
Frustration would be an understatement to describe Javier Hernandez’s spell at Real Madrid since he joined the club from Manchester United during the summer. Having been awarded only 784 minutes of action across 24 matches this season, it is fair to say that Hernandez has been no more than a bystander in Madrid’s campaign so far.
Therefore, Hernandez being handed the opportunity to start arguably Madrid’s biggest game of the season was an unexpected opportunity for the Mexican star to shine and he most certainly was not about to pass it up.
In the absence of Karim Benzema, Hernandez was handed the job of leading the line for Madrid and it was clear to see that the on loan striker was keen on impressing. However, at times it looked like the 26-year old was too keen and he missed a couple of fantastic opportunities to hand his side the lead by snatching at the chances which came his way.
As he has done throughout his career though, Hernandez stepped up when it mattered the most by expertly turning the ball home in the 88th minute of the game and the emotion in his celebration was the perfect release of the frustration he has endured in the last seven months.
Despite his heroics, it is very likely that Hernandez will have to drop down to the bench once again but for all the patience and determination he has shown, the striker most certainly deserves his special moment and his tears was a testament to how much the goal meant to him.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo keeps on delivering
Due to Javier Hernandez’s fairy tale moment, the striker has deservedly stolen all the headlines after the game and Cristiano Ronaldo for once has been overshadowed.
That said though, one should not undermine Ronaldo’s contribution in Madrid’s victory as he was superb on the day once again. Admittedly, the Portuguese superstar was not at his blistering best in front of goal and missed a couple of fantastic opportunities to open the score line.
To epitomize why he is such a great player, Ronaldo kept on going even when things were not coming off as well as he would have liked and the striker remained a constant source of worry to the Atletico backline.
Then just when it looked like it would turn out to be a frustrating night for Madrid, Ronaldo popped up with a moment of brilliance late into the game to provide Hernandez a wonderful assist and play another crucial role in Los Blancos’ Champions League charge.
3. Sergio Ramos proves to be the rabbit out of the hat
With Luka Modric being ruled out once again, Carlo Ancelotti had a major selection problem in midfield ahead of the game and up against the resolute Atletico Madrid – one suspected that Real could potentially lose out in the midfield battle.
Either Asier Illarramendi or Lucas Silva was expected to deputize for the injured Modric but manager Carlo Ancelotti surprisingly decided to go with Sergio Ramos in midfield while deploy the duo of Raphael Varane and Pepe in the centre back position.
The move bewildered many and it certainly represented a huge tactical risk. However, Ramos proved that he is a man of all positions after putting in a quite sublime display at the middle of the park.
The inspirational vice-captin dealt with everything that Aletico threw at Real’s direction and he most certainly did not look out of place in the defensive midfield position.
Even Ancelotti deserves a lot of praise for being brave enough to deploy such a tactic and he will most certainly not be afraid to use Ramos in midfield if the need arises during the future matches.