Can a nil-nil draw be thrilling? If this Real Madrid side is involved, then the answer is an emphatic–yes. The Deportivo La Coruna/Madrid match yesterday afternoon was an intense, emotional thriller that featured tangible echoes and reminders of Madrid’s haunted history in Municipal de Riazor (they’ve only won once at the stadium in the last 19 years), astonishing goal tending by Depor’s Daniel Aranzubia, a bewildering performance by the beleaguered Karim Benzema, a frenzy of yellow cards and many other fascinating narrative developments. Kaka started in place of Angel Di Maria and was a fiery, flashy presence for Madrid in the first half. But it has to be said that juggling these two players presents an interesting dilemma for Jose Mourinho going forward because as soon as Di Maria was inserted onto the pitch in the second half he made a tremendous impact on the match, curling a wicked shot just wide and setting up a few other dangerous chances. Pepe, Carvalho and Marcelo seem more and more impressive with each passing match, anchoring Madrid’s backline with strength, mobility and precision. Cristiano Ronaldo was sharp up front, but the ghostly weight of Madrid’s shaky past in Deportivo’s stadium conspired to send his powerful volleys slamming into the goalposts time and again. Benzema looked baffled and deflated, as he wasted what seemed like a dozen primo chances in stylish, inventive ways. Emmanuel Adebayor also turned in a lackluster performance as he made questionable decisions with the ball and generally seemed out of synch. Credit must be given to Depor for tenacity, organization and iron-willed defending of their own, topped off by one of the most larcenous goaltending performances of the season, as Aranzubia was nothing short of phenomenal. Jose Sand provided sharp edges and pace when Depor attacked in Madrid’s end of the pitch. It was an excellent match filled with excitement and momentum as Madrid attacked relentlessly in the last 15 minutes to try and get the full 3 points and narrow the widening gap with Barca.
It’s too tempting not to psychologically graft and impose American sporting equivalents onto European teams. As I’ve written before, Manchester United, whose 4-0 win at Wigan yesterday was so exciting (read: excruciatingly boring) that I choose to wash dishes during the second half, are the New York Yankees. Madrid are more like the Dallas Cowboys, imperious, entitled, thick with arrogance and swagger, yet completely capable of stringing together stormy periods of carnivalesque dominance that erase erratic trophy-free periods in the blink of an eye; dominance with style, flair and passion; dominance that, unlike United’s, is never static, clinical and mind-numbingly boring. Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid effortlessly embodies the aforementioned characteristics. They can grind out wins with tactics and will or bury you with goals and class. You never know which side will appear, but it will invariably be a fascinating side that you cannot possibly ignore.
As an aside-It was interesting to hear, during the match, that Maradona recently said he preferred Mourinho to Pep Guardiola.
I’ve just started a new job and we had house guests last week, so please excuse the delay between posts. I’ll be checking in soon with book reviews, Europa League thoughts, my sorry, star-crossed Gunners etc.