One of the favorite pastimes of football fans is blasting Roberto Mancini for his tactical tinkering. The man is a virtual pin cushion for criticism. Likewise, at the weekend, Arsene Wenger's substitutions were too long in coming against Manchester United. Jose Mourinho? He likes to change things around, too, never content to let a match get away without having a proper go. And the Special One usually gets it right, as he did at the Bernabeu. Sure, the score line reads 2-2 versus Dortmund, but it was a special effort - and a deserved tie - for Los Blancos.
This is especially the case given how poor they looked in the first half. Out of sync, out of ideas aside from long diagonal balls, they started the match with Gonzalo Higuain hitting a high cross to Cristiano Ronaldo at the far post. Bemused at his teammate, Ronaldo pointed to the pitch as if to say, "There, dummy, there, on the ground so I can score."
Toward the end of the half, Ronaldo repaid the favor, sending a wayward through-ball to Higuain. From a Real perspective, the rest of the first half was pretty forgettable, and Higuain - clearly hampered by an injury to his calf - limped around with all the energy of a sloth.
Jurgen Klopp's men, meanwhile, continued to prove Mourinho's words right: They will be one of the favorites to win the Champions League if they get past the knockout stages (and, by all accounts, that shouldn't be a problem) not to mention help keep future German national teams stocked with youthful, smart players. The first goal, in the 28th minute, was a thing of beauty. Robert Lewandowski's cushioned header to Marco Reus was then blasted into the net at the near post. The commentators had a ball talking about how Iker Casillas should have done better, but the speed and clinical nature of the sequence were deserving of praise.
So was the second goal at the end of the half. In a sequence that would have made Charles Hughes get up and do a happy dance, keeper Roman Weidenfeller sent a towering ball up the pitch. Lewandowski won the ball in the air to pick out Kevin Grosskreutz. Rushing down the left channel, he chipped the ball sideways to chump Pepe and find an onrushing Mario Gotze. The final act? A chip by Mario Gotze, a desperate lunge by Alvaro Arbeloa, an own goal.
Pepe did have his moment in the first half when he headed home in the 34th minute after a rather helter-skelter set piece in which his fellow center back, Raphael Varane, kept the ball alive to eventually get Madrid back in the match. Mourinho warned of complacency ahead of the match, and he had plenty to worry about after the first 45.
At the start of the second half, Mourinho made his intentions known: He took off the hobbled Higuain and Luka Modric, who was poor in the first half, for Jose Maria Callejon and Michael Essien. Varane and Pepe anchored the back while the rest of the team pushed forward, including Kaka, who came on in the 77th minute and had a shout for a penalty. (It wasn't, FYI.) Essien, who might have been the better pick to start, allowed Xabi Alonso to get forward a bit more as well.
It was the man who looks like David Lynch's Eraserhead, Callejon, who injected a ton of life into the side. Often playing as a center forward, or drifting from the left into the middle, he was lethal -- taking shots, pulling defenders out of position and linking with teammates. His one goal was disallowed, as he was just offside.
It was all Dortmund could do to hold on, as defenders (and midfielders) put their bodies on the line. Neven Subotic, the one who got away for the American national team, did quite well on a number of occasions, including a sliding challenge in the box on Angel Di Maria after a reverse pass from Ronaldo. Subotic also stopped Ronaldo dead in his tracks on a later attack. And Weidenfeller made a terrific late save against Ronaldo as well.
In the end, on a free kick about 20 yards from goal, Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil both stood over the ball. On the eve of the Ballon d'Or announcement, it had to be Ronaldo, didn't it? The moment wasn't lost on the commentators, who reminded us that Lionel Messi would have turned a game on its head but that Ronaldo had so far failed. Unfair? Of course. And Ronaldo never took the chance, as the angle always cried out for Ozil's left foot. And what a sublime shot it was, curling into the back of the net. One point rescued, two dropped. Real also remain 22 games unbeaten at home in all competitions.
Dortmund impressed with their defending and efficient and varied counterattacks. Mourinho, as he is so known to do, made the right changes when it mattered most. Mancini, Wenger, are you taking note?
And so, the two best teams in the Group of Death share the spoils, while two games and six points remain for the taking. For these two sides, the Champions League will likely begin in earnest ... in February.