Wednesday, 10 December 2008

'new coach syndrome' blessed Real Madrid, Beat Zenit 3-1

Bernd Schuster's sacking and the recent poor form of Real Madrid looks to have had no effect on his erstwhile charges, as the Spanish champions produced a vintage performance against a jaded Zenit St Petersburg side to emerge 3-0 winners in front of a buoyant home crowd.

Juande Ramos' Dream Debut As Madrid Maul Zenit

Though it must be remembered the Russian season has ended and that Dick Advocaat's men were short on fitness, new Madrid coach Juande Ramos had everything in order from the first minute until the last this evening.

First Half

Los Merengues dominated possession and piled on the pressure instantly. But they struggled to find their regular rhythm in attack as Zenit defended with discipline, keeping a tight line at all times just infront of their penalty box.

But Madrid’s resilience paid off when they took the lead on 24 minutes, albeit with a little help from a goalkeeping gaffe. Rafael van der Vaart floated in what looked like a harmless cross from the left but Zenit custodian, Viatcheslav Malafeev patted the ball down with his right hand but missed the catch with his left and Raul did not hesitate to capitalise as he easily stabbed the ball home.

Juande Ramos’ men continued to go on the attack and Arjen Robben was particularly lively down the left wing, constantly tormenting his markers by cutting into the middle and teeing himself up onto his left foot for a shot but Malafeev was up to the task almost every time.

The first half ended 1-0 to the Spanish giants but the signs were extremely encouraging as they played with confidence and passed the ball around sharply, and barely looked trouble at the back.

It was a massive contrast to how the blancos stuttering and sputtering during Schuster’s final few games in charge.

Second Half

Ramos made a surprise change during the break as he took off van der Vaart for Christoph Metzelder, shipping the German off to the rightback slot and moving Michel Salgado to leftback as the coach experimented with his backline knowing that he will be short on options come Saturday against Barcelona in El Clasico.

Five minutes into the restart, Madrid found their second and Robben finally got his goal after countless attempts. Raul slipped in a through pass to the Dutchman, who galloped past his marker and into the box before audaciously chipping the ball over Malafeev with the outside of his left boot.

Six minutes later, the contest was over when Raul got his second of the match as he responded to Robben’s strike with an ‘anything you can do, I can do just as well’ goal.

It was indeed Robben who provided the through ball this time as El Capitan sneaked in between two defenders, lured Malafeev off his line and cheekily lifted his shot over the stranded goalkeeper to send the crowd into raptures as the ball looped perfectly under the bar and into the back of the net.

It was a strike worthy to take him past Filippo Inzaghi to become the all-time leading scorer in European competition and his 66th in total.

As Ramos sent in fringe players Javi Garcia and Javier Saviola to give them a run-out, Zenit burst to life towards the end and they came close to hitting the target. First, Victor Fayzulin’s low shot skidded off Jerzy Dudek’s hands and cannoned back off the bar after the Polish 'keeper had dived to slap the effort away.

And late in the game, Danny sent a header crashing against the underside of the bar when he met Dominguez’s corner as the Madrid defence took their foot off the pedal and their eyes off the ball.

But it didn’t matter as they romped home to an impressive 3-0 victory in what was their best all-round performance in a long time. It still wasn’t adequate, however, for them to top the group as Juventus did just enough to claim that honour following a 0-0 draw at home to BATE Borisov.

Regardless, Juande Ramos and his men in white can now turn their attention to El Clasico with renewed confidence and optimism.

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