By Rahul Bali
It’s very important for players to find their rhythm in order to hit top form. And for that you need to play consistently which is dependent on the faith shown in you by your manager. In Iker Casillas’ case, although praiseworthy words have been forthcoming, that hasn’t translated into him featuring for his side every week. Instead he has been assigned as the ‘goalkeeper for the cup competitions’ and been relegated to the bench for the league.
On Tuesday when Real Madrid travelled to Turin for their group stage Champions League encounter with Juventus, the same story unfolded. Sergio Ramos was preferred at right-back in order to keep track of Carlos Tevez despite Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Arbeloa being fit. The former Seville player did a decent job but made a suicidal back pass for Raphael Varane which was intercepted by Fernando Llorente, only for the French defender to do enough to make the striker show his back to goal.
Varane was named alongside Pepe as the two centre-backs and the former had a nightmare of a game. He needlessly brought down Paul Pogba inside the box to concede a penalty which led to Arturo Vidal converting from the spot in the first half. While in the second half, he was caught ball watching as Llorente headed home the equalizer from a Martin Caceres cross.
Pepe, for once, was their best defender as he even made a goal-line save but could have almost scored an own goal as well while attempting to clear a ball inside the box sent by Pogba. Marcelo, as always, made more of a mark in the attacking third than at the back.
Following a 15 minute possession spell for the visitors, it was the home team who dominated the proceedings for the entire first half. Pogba ran the show while Andrea Pirlo was afforded ample time and space on the ball which allowed him to intelligently spray the ball.
Juventus had as many as seven shots in the opening 45 minutes and of them, six forced Casillas into making saves. And mind you, those shots weren’t tame at all. They were of a varied nature and each of Casillas’ saves were world-class. Like the one when he used his foot to clear Claudio Marchisio’s header or to saving Pepe the embarrassment of scoring in his own net.
Despite los blancos came out with intent after the break, their defense continued to be in shambles as every time the Bianconeri attacked, they found a way inside the box and tested Casillas.
While Cristiano Ronaldo would soak up all the attention for his goal which saw him beat Lionel Messi’s record of having scored more goals in a calendar year in the Champions League, Casillas’ performance oozed class.
He sent out an important message to his critics that he wouldn’t accept being on the bench and that the manager can count on him. Diego Lopez has also been in exceptional form and what this does for Ancelotti and Madrid is raise the bar for goalkeeping as the two custodians wrestle for the manager’s faith.
At the end of the game, Casillas even stated that he is determined to see out his contract with his boyhood club and fight until the end to win back his spot of being the number one keeper at Real Madrid.
For Ancelotti, there remains another headache to deal with. Madrid have been conceding two or more goals consistently and it has been the brilliance of their goalkeepers which has often kept the score-line respectable.
Critics pointed out that the return of Varane would see improved performances from their rearguard. The French international had spoken of having defensive stability in the build-up to the game. However his own display at the Juventus stadium left much to be desired.
The Italian manager has had teams with a sold centre-back pairing in each of his clubs – be it Juventus, Milan, Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain. He isn’t a big fan of chopping and changing every week. This season, Ancelotti has changed his back-line far too often which is a sign that he is still finding the best men for the job.
The sooner that’s taken care of the better, as it would allow the group to gel and thereby get into a rhythm which is so very crucial. And as far as goalkeepers are concerned, he has the luxury of calling on the services of two top class custodians at any given time – something which none of the coaches in the world can boast of.
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