Real Madrid wrapped up it’s American jaunt in the 2011 Herbalife World Football Challenge with a modest 2-1 result in their friendly against the local MLS club Philadelphia Union.
Jose Mourinho started the match with their most prolific scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, on the bench. Their formation was 4-2-3-1. Their squad, however, had quite a few new faces and second choice players. Two new signings started, Raphael Varane in the defense and Jose Maria Callejon as a winger primarily on the right. Mesut Ozil started as the playmaker, and Karim Benzema as center forward.
Philadelphia started the match with their first team. They typically deploy a version of the 4-4-2 diamond formation, and with Brian Carroll in the lineup, they seem more comfortable having the outside midfielders Keon Daniel and Justin Mapp press up on the opposing fullbacks.
Tactically, I wouldn’t say this match was particularly interesting. Madrid opened a two goal lead early, taking advantage of defensive breakdowns by the Union. In the 2nd minute, a Xabi Alonso long ball carried over right back Sheanon Williams’ jump, and Callejon in stride ran onto the ball and shot it past Faryd Mondragon to open. Less than 10 minutes later, pressure from Benzema forced center back Carlos Valdes to misplay. The French international created space, crossed to Ozil, who split Gabriel Farfan and Danny Califf and drove home the second goal.
While the Union did garner opportunities on the counterattack, their finishing touch was nowhere to be found in the first half. Sebastian LeToux had two opportunities in particular inside the area with only Iker Casillas separating him from the goal. The first he drove straight into Casillas. With the second, it was unclear if he took a shot wide or tried to play Carlos Ruiz in behind the keeper. Nevertheless, the opportunity was good for neither, and Philadelphia were down 2 at the break.
The first 15 minutes of the second half resembled more of a first-team squad for Real Madrid, with a number of subs entering including Ronaldo. They enjoyed some good opportunities early, but as the match churned on in the heat their energy level seemed to wane.
The Union also made substitutions, but theirs could be seen as a move towards reserves and youth. It appeared to take 20 minutes in the 2nd half for these substitutes to settle down against one of the world’s powerhouses. But once they did, the midfield of Michael Farfan, Roger Torres, and 16 year old Zach Pfeffer began to show through. Especially significant was Danny Mwanga, as he dropped into the midfield, and his linking play was important to creating the opportunities to follow.
While Madrid seemed to do well in possession, the Union reserve squad showed more desire and determination to try to earn a result. The pressure eventually resulted in an 80th minute goal from Michael Farfan, a nifty chip off a give-and-go with Mwanga that eluded substitute goalkeeper Tomas Mejias.
In the final 5 minutes plus stoppage time, the Union endured one last Ronaldo missile, a dipping free kick that reserve keeper Zach MacMath parried away. MacMath also remained in good position to squelch a shot on the rebound. But the most dangerous of the opportunities threatened the other goal. While Roger Torres has frustrated at times by taking too many long, inaccurate shots, his 90th minute blast from 22 yards skimmed the bar. As the end of the match drew near, Jack McInerney also took a crack from outside the area, and the low, hard shot forced Mejias to dive to his right to keep it out.
Mourinho’s squad escaped with the victory, but the story may be how the youth for Philadelphia have had two exceptional efforts this week. One could argue that Real Madrid were tired after a heavy load of fixtures, especially this one in tropical heat. It was great, though, to allow players like Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Ryan Richter to see action. While they still have plenty of room to improve, they have shown that there is reason to be optimistic.