It would be more accurate to say Real Madrid were never tested than trot out the old cantor cliché, but within the parlance of soccer matches, both descriptions hold. Scoring ten minutes into today’s Champions League match against Galatasaray, El Real were able to play the match with a friendly’s intensity, particularly after a 29th minute goal from Karim Benzema presented Gala head coach Fatih Terim with an unenviable choice: Do we pull back and try to limit the damage ahead of a second leg in Istanbul? Or do we persist with our commitment to attacking soccer, the value we promised we’d uphold ahead of our trip to Madrid?
When Wesley Sneijder was subbed off at halftime, we knew the answer, with defender Gohkan Zan brought on in his place. That change could have been about balance, moving Albert Reira into midfield as Galatasaray set up wider, but having generated a couple of good chances in the first half (most notably through Emmanuel Eboué in the 44th minute), Gala’s attack wasn’t the problem. Terim was trying to consolidate, something that went by the wayside when Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 73rd minute. Down 3-0 after 90 minutes, Galatasaray are left to ruminate over whether they should have pulled back from minute one.
Though some recommended Terim choose only two of Burak Yilmaz, Didier Drogba and Sniejder ahead of the match, the Gala boss stuck with the same 4-3-1-2 formation he’s come to prefer since incorporating the club’s January buys. Given the monumental nature of their task, it’s hard to blame him for wanting to play his own way. Galatasaray could have employed a more defensive set up, but the odds of containing Real Madrid would have still been slim. Why go down being something you’re not, Terim could have argued.
It’s the type of no-win situation that’s unavoidable for an underdog. You can look at what a team like Chelsea did in last year’s tournament and say there’s always a chance, but not everybody has the personnel to play that way. Felipe Melo would have been dismissed by halftime, and the central defense would have been left exposed. In Terim’s mind, Gala may have been at their best trading punches with Real.
Ten minutes in, they took the first punch, with a ball played by Mesut Ozil into the left of the penalty area allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to score his competition-leading ninth Champions League goal. Near the half-hour mark, poor defending on a Michael Essien cross gave Benzema an easy finish at the far post. In the second half, Higuaín added what will likely amount to insurance.
Galatasaray scoring three against Real is a huge challenge, particularly given José Mourinho has six days to plan against it. To do so without giving up a goal is an even bigger task, and that scenario would only guarantee Gala extra time. If they’re scored upon, the Turkish champs will need five goals to advance to their first semifinal.
In today’s preview, we asked if history implied the quarterfinals are a step too far for Turkey’s best. On Wednesday, it looked that way. Real Madrid played with same intensity you’d see during a Copa del Rey visit from a second-tier side. At times that conceded chances, and others it meant they weren’t as clinical as they could have been. But they still won, 3-0.