The much-anticipated return of La Liga began with a scintillating match between the new galácticos of Real Madrid and the pesky Deportivo La Coruña, who always gives Madrid a run for their money, literally. Because of the continued suspension of Pepe and the tendinitis suffered by Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid defense was not at full strength, and Ezequiel Garay and Álvaro Arbeloa started in their positions respectively. All of Madrid’s big signings started, and they began in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation with Lass and Xabi Alonso in central midfield and in front of the back four, Cristiano Ronaldo on the right of the three, Raúl on the left, and Kaká roaming in the middle behind the striker Karim Benzema.
Early in the match, Madrid played tentatively as expected, trying to figure the best strategy to incorporate the strengths of the new players. They created a plethora of chances but did not construct the decisive pass to generate a genuine goal-scoring opportunity. Then the magic materialized that los madridistas expected since the formation of this second galáctico team.
In the 26th minute, on another attacking situation, Kaká’s vision and audacity came to fruition. Cutting inside towards the “D,” Kaká sensed the diagonal run of Karim Benzema and slotted a pass to him that traveled first between Pablo Álvarez’s legs, then between Juan Rodríguez’s legs to spot Karim Benzema. Benzema then fired his shot first time, split through goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubía’s legs, and hit the post; Raúl cleaned up the rebound, and it was 1-0 Real Madrid. It was debatable whether Benzema was onside when Kaká played his through ball to him, but nevertheless, that was why Florentino Pérez sought out these world-class players: for this kind of ingenuity and flair.
No sooner than four minutes later did Depor expose Real Madrid’s defense with a training ground free kick routine. Depor caught Madrid sleeping, and Riki headed home the equalizer. Madrid gave both Riki and Alberto Lopo an ample amount of space, and Riki ended up scoring, but to have two players so open from a relatively short free kick was inexcusable.
Real Madrid scored five minutes later on a penalty by Cristiano Ronaldo. Lass made another decisive pass into the box for Raúl, and Aranzubía felled Raúl whilst trying to take the ball off his foot. Ronaldo took the penalty with his famous stutter step and beat Aranzubía to retake the lead 2-1. Ronaldo then showed his panache a minute later when he did a series of step-overs, breezed by the defender, and crossed a beautiful ball to Raúl in the box. Unfortunately, for Real, Raúl’s shot went straight into Aranzubía’s stomach, but Ronaldo’s individual brilliance lit up the Bernabéu yet again.
The combination of Lass and Xabi Alonso controlled the midfield, akin to their rivals Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández at Barcelona, and they were able to keep possession and take possession back whenever Madrid lost the ball. These two hold the key to unlocking opposing defenses; if they dictate the middle of the park, the front line will be able to be free to set up their one-two’s and other intricate positions.
The Real Madrid defense was caught ball watching in the first minute of the second half. Andrés Guardado worked the left flank and crossed to Juan Carlos Valerón, where he had the ability to control the cross, take the shot, and score from the top of the penalty box. No one was close enough to Valerón, and even when Ezequiel Garay attempted to close down Valerón’s shot, it was only in vain as Valerón blasted his shot passed a frozen Iker Casillas. Garay and Raúl Albiol did not have the chemistry required for a central defensive pair, and that was the kind of situation where Madrid missed the calm and positioning of Pepe.
Real almost gave up a third goal in the 57th minute when Guardado again paced down the left wing and sent a heavenly ball to Valerón. Valerón sliced through the center of the defense again but inexplicably sent his shot wide of the post. Casillas had no chance, and from the six-yard box, it was harder to miss than to score, but somehow, Valerón managed to do so. Depor paid for their missed golden chance when Lass scored three minutes later from just outside the “D”.
The final was 3-2 in favor of Real Madrid, and each of the new players had their distinct moments of skill. Their defense needs major improvement, and maybe when Pepe and Sergio Ramos return, these defensive gaffes will not occur as often. The statistics suggest that Madrid dominated the match with 59% of the possession, twenty-eight shots with eleven on goal, and ten corner kicks to Depor’s three. When watching the match, there was always a feeling that Deportivo La Coruña could get a draw or even win.
Real is definitely still a work in progress, and it will take more than one match to develop the chemistry needed to gel as a unit. Offense was not the problem last year, and they will likely surpass the eighty-three goals they scored in the prior season; however, they cannot expect to outscore teams on every occasion. Benzema, Ronaldo, Kaká, Xabi Alonso, et al. will not be the problems. If the back line continues to leak goals as if it were the Exxon Valdez, Real Madrid will not win La Liga or any other competition this campaign.