Match Recap: Champions League – Real Madrid v Ludogorets

3 Oct

Photo 1“It’s the champions…” I really have no idea what the lyrics are. It seriously sounds to me like they say “In Barca” over and over again. It wouldn’t surprise me either.

The team traveled to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, for matchday two of Champions League. Sofia is actually 250 miles from Rozgrad, where Ludogorets is based. There’s an entire starring system for holding UEFA sanctioned matches which is scored from 1 to 5 based on fan capacity, security, media capacity, etc. Category Four is required to hold UEFA Champions League matches and calls for a minimum of 8000 spectators and no standing sections (among other things). Since the stadium in Rozgrad holds just over 7000 spectators, the match was played at Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia, which holds 43,230 fans. Still, the stadium seemed so tiny.

Ludogorets were only formed in 2001 and made the top flight of Bulgarian football for the first time in 2011. They won 3 straight titles following that step up and made Champions League in insane fashion. Check it out here.

Unfortunately, following that match Lodogorets were punished by UEFA due to racist behavior (Steaua Bucharest were also punished). This meant a section of the stadium was left empty. And to be honest, you couldn’t tell. The fans were SO loud.

But this is a Real Madrid blog, and I won’t bore you with any more UEFA classifications and bad juju about racism. Let’s get into the match!

Lineups:

Photo 2Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo, Illarramendi, Modric, Isco, Bale, Chicharito, Ronaldo.

Ludogorets: Stoyanov, Aleksandrov, Minev, Moţi, Caiçara, Espinho, Dani Abalo, Dyakov, Marcelinho, Bezjak, Hernández.

The tunnel in Sofia saw our usual pre-match besos between Sergio and Iker, which I cannot deny you the joy of viewing. It also saw Cristiano give a bro hug to fellow Portuguese midfielder Fabio Espinho.

As the teams began to walk out, Toni and Karim came running down the tunnel. Seems they decided to be a little late getting to the bench. It was kind of amusing, but I haven’t found video of it.

The match kicked off and I hoped we’d rock the dragon kit. I was rocking my three-sizes-too-big Ronaldo jersey from last season. Lozil knows it as the one I bought to replace my evil Clasico one.

It was a pretty unenthusiastic start, as we’re starting to get used to. We controlled a lot of the possession early but didn’t do anything with it. Both Cris and Sergio gave the ball away a couple of times, frustrating me to no end way too early in the match. Ludogorets got on the break and took a shot that led to a goal kick in the 4th minute. Then a series of bad mistakes by Sergio led to a corner after a Ludogorets shot took a deflection off Modric.

Of course we have issues defending set pieces and both Sergio and Gareth were beat to the flick on that went to the back corner. Marcelinho was able to get behind Arbeloa to head the ball into the net. There was nothing Iker could do about it.

We were down 1-0 in the first 6 minutes of the game. To a team that NO ONE expected to score against the Madrid powerhouse.

In the 8th minute we almost had an equalizer, but Chicharito scuffed it wide of the post. Boo!

BUT in the 10th minute, Chicharito was brought down in the box. We were awarded the penalty and Cristiano stepped up to take it. Surely we had our equalizer. He fired it low and hard but the Ludogorets keeper had done his homework. He made an exceptional save to deny Cris.

UGH!

To be fair, that was a great save. I got kind of tetchy on Twitter about people saying that Cris “missed” the penalty. I felt (and still do) that it cheapens the fact that the keeper made an excellent save. A miss is putting it wide of the post or, you know, skying the shit out of it.

He made reparations in the 14th by putting the ball into the net. But wait! It was offside. Except it wasn’t. The linesman made a terrible call, ruling that Ronnie was beyond the last defender when he wasn’t.

I’m not amused either, love. I smell bad vision too. Next time, boo. Next time.

In the 16th minute, Bale was caught offside (for real this time) and lucky not to have been put in the books. He played on, not hearing the whistle, and took the shot.

Ludogorets earned another corner in the 20th minute and, true to form, our boys gave me a heart attack. Somehow we don’t learn from our mistakes and the forwards were allowed to get their head on the ball. Again. This time it ended up in the side netting.

My roommate heard a loud “FUCKING TALK TO EACH OTHER! THIS ISN’T REC BALL!” escape my mouth. The defense was discombobulated and I’d just watched Modric and Illaramendi run into each other.

My comms were talking about needing the younger players like Illaramendi, Isco, and Varane to mature a lot when it was the veterans, the guys with the age and experience like Modric, Sergio, Arbeloa, Marcelo, and Casillas, that were making the most mistakes.

In the 22nd minute Cris went down in the box and we were awarded our second penalty. This time, though, Sir Tans-A-Lot was not to be denied. Good thing too, as two penalty saves by the largely unknown keeper would have been a huge blow to the confidence.

Honestly, Cristiano went down a bit soft. I’m not sure it was the right decision. BUT he’d been absolutely chopped down in the box just before that and it hadn’t been given. I’ll still take the “make up” call and our goal-scoring machine bringing us level.

Oh, and the lasers were out in Sofia too. Fricking lasers.

Ludogorets enjoyed a decent amount of possession, including a good stop by their keeper to deny Cris another chance. I have to say, Ludogorets defend solidly. They’re unafraid and extremely confident.

In the 31st minute Marcelo played a beauty of a cross into the middle. Chicharito got up and met it with his head, but directed it directly to the keeper. Hell of a chance and a really bad miss by the Little Pea.

Ludogorets galloped down the left flank in the 38th minute, but Marcelinho’s cross-field ball was cut out by Arbeloa after Sergio committed rather poorly. Was it just me, or did Sergio forget how to futbol? I love our Pony, but not his best match!

Not long after, Marcelo had to make a diving header to keep the ball from troubling Iker at all. DEFENSE! ARGH!

In the 42nd minute Chicha barely missed the far post.

Ludogorets skipped past our defense once again and rounded Iker to tap it home. But it was ruled out for offside. Bezjak had already begun celebrating and was gutted.

FINALLY the half ended Ludogorets 1-1 Real Madrid. The little team that might, was looking entirely too dangerous against our Blancos.

Second half:

We began the second half way stronger than we’d begun or finished the first half. Cris’s first order of business was to scream a ball across the face of the goal. But we had no one there to tap it in.

Then we got into some lovely (if I wasn’t having a bloody heart attack) end-to-end football. I’m sure neutrals were thoroughly enjoying the match. I, however, was not amused.

Ludogorets earned a corner, which we defended well (GASP!). We went back to our attacking third and Sergio headed the ball over the bar. Then, in the 51st minute, the keeper made what might have been the save of the game. Seriously talented keeper here, folks.

Take a bow, Vladislav Stoyanov. What fantastic reflexes to push Bale’s header away. Gareth had his head in his hands and so did I. I thought it was in. A superb header and even better goalkeeping.

Not to be left out, Iker made a fab save of his own just two minutes later. We gave Fabio Espinho space and he took it. He unleashed a powerful strike from about 30 yards out that Iker had to go full stretch to tip over the bar.

In the 55th minute, Chicharito missed a completely open net. It was not going to get much easier for us and he couldn’t turn it in on the slide. It wasn’t anywhere near going in the direction of the goal.

We continued to press but there was an entire fleet of buses that seemed to be parked in the Ludogorets defensive end. The biggest of which may have been Stoyanov. Either a bus or a forcefield. One of those.

In the 66th minute, Casillas tipped another Marcelinho strike wide of the post. It was another glorious save by our capitan. He couldn’t be outdone by Stoyanov!

Ancelotti made our first substitution in the 67th minute. It was Benze-Benze-Benzema! He replaced Hernandez, hopefully bringing with him a bit of lion instead of kitten.

Well, it didn’t disconcert Ludogorets at all. Cris received the ball wide and went for the tap over the keeper only to have it cleared off the line. Crikey! This is a determined Bulgarian side!

In the 71st minute Sergio got himself booked after taking Wanderson down at midfield. A bit cynical, but better he take him down at midfield and get a yellow than take him down closer to goal and get a red. We call it a professional foul.

In the 73rd minute, Isco was replaced by James. Isco had been working his tail off but his game had been a bit of a kerfuffle. It just wasn’t going his way.

In the 77th minute, we got what we’d been waiting for. And who was it? BENZE-BENZE-BENZEMA! (I think watishista Mandi will be walking around Manhattan singing that now)

Karim got ahead of his marker to side foot Marcelo’s cross past Stoyanov. Marcelo’s crosses are a thing of beauty. A bit underrated, if I can inject my opinion. Perhaps a bit taken for granted? Precision on this one. And we did get a bit lucky that the Ludogorets defender slipped, allowing Benz to get his foot on it.

Happy Benz is my favorite Benz. Can’t you just hear him purring like the kitten he is as he celebrates? No? Just me? Right then…

In the 86th minute, Ludogorets attacker Anicet received a yellow card for raking down the back of Cristiano’s achilles tendon. It left Cris in a lot of pain and left me in a lot of worry. With all of our subs used up, we had to play with 10 men as he waited on the sideline to see if he could continue.

If I’ve learned anything about Cristiano Ronaldo over the last 10 years it’s that when he’s limping and trying to cover his face it’s some serious pain.

He came back on about three minutes later, but he wasn’t himself. He was running a bit gingerly. WE JUST GOT HIM HEALTHY!

The ref added three minutes of extra time, but neither team looked squirrely in front of goal. That was it. We eeked out the win over Ludogorets.

More milestones were reached in this match. Since joining Real Madrid in the 2009/10 season, Cris and Karim have become the highest scoring striking partnership in the history of Champions League with 80 goals between them in the competition.

Arbeloa (an academy graduate, in case you forgot) reached his 200th appearance with Los Blancos. He made his first team debut against Betis WAY back in 2004.

And Casillas has now appeared in 142 Champions League matches. That’s the same number as our beloved Raul. Iker made his Champions League debut in 1999 at the tender age of 18. He’s been with the club for 16 seasons of Europe’s top club competition. Enhorabuena capitán!

Our next Champions League match is against Liverpool at Anfield on October 22. No, it’s cool. We’ll just play against a team we’ve never beat three days before the Clasico! I’m stressing out already!

Other match photos:

Can Arbeloa PUHLEASE just play the entire game without his shirt on?!

Can Arbeloa PUHLEASE just play the entire game without his shirt on?!

Post-match comments:
(from realmadrid.com)

AncelottiAncelotti:

Carlo Ancelotti expressed his satisfaction with the three points won in Sofia. The Italian analysed the victory against Ludogorets: “In general I’m very happy because we deserved to win, since we had a lot of chances to score. It was a good match. We had a hard time when we conceded the goal at the start, but we pressed up front, won back a lot of balls with our pressing and had a lot of chances.”

Goals conceded from dead balls
“Their goal is very similar to the ones we conceded against Atlético and Real Sociedad. We have to cover the near post more. Today our best headers of the ball were out there to cover the near post, like Ronaldo or Bale, but we conceded a goal again.”

Opponent
“Ludogorets showed the attitude that I expected: dynamic play and intensity, like they showed at Anfield.”

System of play
“We played a 4-4-2 because Bale put in a lot of work further back and Isco played on the left wing. It has to be taken into consideration that we have to take risks with counter-attacks, but in the end Iker only made one save.”

Changes to the line-up
“They were made so as to rest players who have played a lot, like Kroos, James or Karim, and to have the whole squad motivated.”

BenzemaBenzema:

Benzema came on in the second half and scored the goal that handed victory to Real Madrid. The Frenchman spoke to the media after the match: “It was a difficult match at a difficult ground and we’re very happy with this result. What’s most important is that we’ve got the three points away from home.”

“We were up against a team that is very strong and played with a lot of intensity. The best thing is the three points and we’re going to work hard to keep on improving. It’s important to be top of the group and we’re going to keep that going.”

Personal performance
“For me the most important thing is the team’s play, although for a forward it’s also very important to score. Today I helped the team and my team-mates a lot. The most important thing is to win. The fans want me to score a lot of goals but we’re going to work hard like today.”

RamosRamos:

“It wasn’t one of our best games, but the Champions League is difficult and every team makes life difficult for you, even if it doesn’t have as big a name as others. We come away from tonight happy at picking up the three points.”

“It isn’t a problem of relaxation and nobody makes mistakes on purpose. We have to keep on working and improving,” he explained on dead-ball situations.

Casillas and Ronaldo
“There are no words. Iker is a really great goalkeeper, the captain, and it doesn’t surprise me that he makes great saves because he has made them every year. As for Cristiano, I don’t think the comments from the stands affect him.”

RonaldoRonaldo:

Cristiano Ronaldo scored Real Madrid’s first goal against Ludogorets and, speaking to the media post-match, gave his opinion on the clash: “It wasn’t a brilliant match but the most important thing is the three points. I’m very happy because, although the team did not put on a great performance, we won the match and I scored another goal. It’s important to keep on scoring.”

“We didn’t play pretty football, but the aim was to win. Casillas always plays to a very high level and, as for the shouts from the stands, it’s not for me to comment on because it’s not something that affects me.”

CasillasCasillas:

“We knew they were going to be a difficult opponent who were going to play the match with a lot of intensity and would be really up for it against us. We conceded a goal early on and we had to recover. Then, we came back and turned the match around. We’ve taken another step forward in this competition, we still have our future in our own hands.”

“Now we come up against Liverpool, which is going to be a huge match because they have to win. I’m sure it’s going to be a very attractive, great match. But before then we have to think about Athletic, another big match in which we have to go all out for the three points before the international break.”

“We always analyse it. Maybe it’s a run of conceding that type of goal and it’s playing on our minds a little bit. We all accept our share of the blame, and I’m the first to. We’re committed to making sure it doesn’t happen to us again.”

Competition
“Keylor is a magnificent goalkeeper. He has already shown that at Levante and now he’s doing the same at Madrid. Competition is healthy for everyone. The club and the fans benefit.”

ChicharitoHernandez:

“We won 1-2, we got the three points, which is what’s important, and I’m happy about the opportunity that I’ve had. We know that there are never any easy games for this club and our opponents are always going to give their best. In the end, we won a difficult game. We never feared for the result and we looked for more goals.”

Marcelo:

“We did a good job and we’ve got the three points at a difficult ground. We moved the ball about well and we did what the coach asked of us: possession up front and control of the ball. In the end we made it 1-2. There are no easy games and now we have to work hard over these days to beat another good team in Athletic.”

Once again our boys took to social media following the win. Here are there posts for your viewing pleasure.

(Images and gifs by GF Sports, the-vip-football-collection, tfortravis, realmadrid.com)

¡Hala Madrid!

-mygypsyspirit

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