One could not help feeling surprised when the lineup was announced. Not only because both teams dropped their starting centrebacks, but also when the away team came to Bernabeu trying to be the boss. Starting Maicon without either Zabaleta or James Milner was a gamble, which left the Brazilian exposed to Christiano Ronaldo, one of the most dangerous attackers in the world. To have played Silva and Nasri , also asking Yaya Toure to be more adventurous seemed to be an unpopular move, when Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry struggled to win the ball from Real Madrid.
On the other hand, Jose Mourinho was asking for response from their poor run lately. It was a brave decision to drop Sergio Ramos to the bench for Varane. Having Essien, Khedira and Xabi Alonso in midfield provided more assurance. While it seemed Mourinho opted for a safety-first approach, apparently they overpowered Manchester City’s midfield and allowed Di Maria and Ronaldo to freely torture the City’s fullbacks.
The injury of Nasri seemed to have further hampered Mancini’s side, who only enjoyed less than 30% of the possession in first half, but Kolarov provided an extra workforce on the left and had released Yaya Toure. The Ivorian was much more lively in the second half, not once seeing him burst through Real Madrid’s defence in counter-attack, and also assisted Dzeko, who replaced Silva, to bring City the lead.
Mancini’s decision to switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 in the second half and inserting Kolarov were justified, especially the freekick that brought City back in front after Marcelo’s equaliser. However, it was Mourinho who sparked off the goal fest when Ozil was introduced and have opened up the game. The absence of Essien inspired Yaya Toure, although the latter looked jaded in the last 15 minutes of the game.
There was a game plan for Manchester City, and it was well executed, thanks to the brilliant effort by Joe Hart. Taking off Maicon for Zabaleta appeared to be a sensible move, but somehow the floodgate was wide open. Mourinho went all out after falling behind. Modric and Benzema retrieved the attacking line, particularly when Barry and Javi Garcia possessed tired legs and unfortunately, Rodwell was not in the plan to stop the bleed. Suddenly, Manchester City was all over the place. Even Joe Hart could not stop the marvellous shots by Marcelo, Benzema and Ronaldo. It was a fantastic recovery by Real Madrid, but more question marks are raised towards Mancini’s tactical moves.
Man of the Match: Jose Mourinho. They were on the back foot unexpectedly, but the Portuguese made courageous though sensible substitutions. He did not over-crowded the frontline, as what he did in the match against Getafe. Removing the more defensive Essien and Khedira showed his determination to win, and he clearly addressed the weakness in opponent’s defence by overloading the attack on the left. It was a victory for Real Madrid, as well as a convincing victory for Mourinho in the tactician battle.
Flop of the Match: Gonzalo Higuain did have a good early season, but he has been equivalent to wasteful recently. There were two golden chances ruined by the Argentine in the first half, who could have given Real Madrid the upper hand. In contrast, Benzema required only 15 minutes to impress. One would not imagine Higuain featuring in the starting lineup in the near future.