Jose Mourinho is meticulous. In a 3-0 win over Galatasaray, Real Madrid showed that exhaustive ruthlessness. Three-goal first-leg lead? Check. Clean sheet? Yup. Strategic yellow cards? Oh, you bet.
Once Gonzalo Higuain guided Xabi Alonso's free kick inside the near post with a pinpoint header, Alonso and Sergio Ramos made sure to pick up bookings. They will miss the second leg in Istanbul.
Only one team has come back from a three-goal first-leg deficit in Champions League history (Deportivo la Coruña against AC Milan in 2004). Mourinho may pay lip-service to the loss of "two important players," but that's only to avoid a fine if possible.
The last time those two conveniently accrued suspensions was in November 2010. Then, in a 4-0 win over Ajax in the group stages, Alonso and Ramos earned red cards. And they actually had to earn them, going out of their ways to waste time and collect second yellows. Ramos refused to take a free kick, fiddling with his socks, until the referee ejected him. He shook the ref's hand on his way out.
The two missed the final, meaningless group stage match, and entered the knockout rounds with clean disciplinary slates.
UEFA didn't much appreciate the gamesmanship, giving Mourinho a one-match touchline ban and fining all involved: 30,000 euros for Mourinho, 100,000 euros for Madrid, 20,000 euros for Alonso and Ramos, 10,000 euros for Iker Casillas and 6,000 euros for Jerzy Dudek. (Television footage showed Dudek, the backup keeper, passing along Mourinho's instructions to Casillas, who relayed them to Ramos.)
Of course, UEFA will find it more difficult to punish Madrid this time. The Blancos did more than enough to warrant their yellows. Karim Benzema, who scored his 30th goal in 50 Champions League games, left his studs high in a challenge ala Nani, and avoided a card. Ramos probably should have conceded a penalty for stepping on Burak Yilmaz's foot; instead Yilmaz was cautioned for diving and Galatasaray's top scorer will miss the second leg. Key defender Dany Nounkeu, who made a game-leading seven tackles and seven interceptions, is too.
"The referee was a little bit scared by Real Madrid's reputation," Fatih Terim said. "It isn't to say that Real Madrid won this game because of the referee, but he was clearly not up to this level."
He's right, at least about the reasons Real Madrid won. Terim still hasn't found a solution for how to fit January signings Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, plus Yilmaz, who had scored in six straight Champions League games prior to Wednesday, into the same lineup.
Against Madrid, the Turkish coach pushed Sneijder nominally left with (former?) Spanish international Albert Riera asked to overlap. Apart from a few early long-range Drogba shots, it didn't work.
At halftime Terim gave up, hooking Sneijder off for a defender. Though he made a game-high four key passes, Drogba tired drastically enough to suggest he should have made way instead.
"Against Drogba, you have to impose physical power and intervene at the right moment," 19-year-old Rafaël Varane, who led the game with three aerial duels won, told beIN Sport. "Mourinho told me about his game and the fact that he uses his body and his physical power to his advantage. He told me especially not to engage."
An incongruous attack – allowing Los Blancos to keep a first clean sheet in 12 European matches – only exacerbated slack defending. Emmanuel Eboué rolled back the years and submitted a performance Arsenal defenders are infamous for.
First, he let Cristiano Ronaldo run behind him for the opener, a deft clip that takes the Portuguese ahead of Pippo Inzaghi to sixth in the Champions League goalscoring charts, with 47 overall. Then, two of Mourinho's peculiar selections, Michael Essien and Benzema, combined, with Eboué all but ducking under the fullback's cross so that Benzema merely had to tap the ball in at the far post.
After the third, when Galatasaray somehow let Real Madrid's lone striker attack a free kick unmarked, all that was left for the host side was to collect the requisite bookings.
"Miracles do exist in soccer but obviously it will be very hard against a team like Real Madrid," Terim said. "We played against a team determined to win the Champions League title this year."
Determined enough to do the gritty, uncouth work necessary, fines be damned.
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