Achilles' heel haunts Madrid again despite Mallorca win

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

In the end the scoreline was a convincing one, but Real Madrid's Achilles' heel returned in Saturday night's 5-2 victory over relegation-threatened Mallorca to give Galatasaray boss Fatih Terim food for thought ahead of the Champions League quarter-final clash.

- Real Madrid battles past Mallorca

Terim was in the Bernabeu stands as Madrid secured their seventh straight win, and ninth unbeaten, against a Mallorca side desperate for points to boost their La Liga survival hopes. While Madrid upped their gear in the second half to run out convincing winners after trailing 2-1 at half-time, their weakness at defending crosses and set-pieces stuck out, once again, like a sore thumb.

It's a weakness Terim no doubt knew all about. Los Blancos have looked vulnerable from set-pieces all season, and a large proportion of the goals they've conceded have come from such means. If he was in any doubt at all, Saturday night's victory over Mallorca made sure Terim and Galatasaray will look to set plays as arguably their best way of scoring against Jose Mourinho's men when the sides meet for the last-eight double header.

The worries came in the first half and as early as the sixth minute. Mallorca might be struggling at the wrong end of the league table, but they went into the contest with back-to-back victories to boost their survival hopes and boost morale ahead of what was always going to be a tricky trip to the Spanish capital.

Emilio Nsue was the man on the scoresheet for the visitors, but Madrid's defending left plenty to be desired. Giovani dos Santos provided a deep cross, and Nsue was left with the space and time to bury his header beyond goalkeeper Diego Lopez and into the back of the net. He was Fabio Coentrao's man, but the Portuguese left-back didn't get close enough and the hosts paid the price.

Mallorca's second, after Madrid had got on level terms, came in similar circumstances to give them a half-time lead. Pedro Bigas produced an assist from a corner for Alejandro Alfaro for a nod in at the far post - unmarked again. Joy for Mallorca and worry for a Madrid side who will need to be at the top of their game defensively against Galatasaray, especially from set-pieces, with players such as Didier Drogba so dangerous in the air.

All-in-all it was a much-changed Madrid side that stepped out on a wet Saturday night - as is the norm with Mourinho throwing the towel in on La Liga and focusing firmly on the Copa del Rey and Champions League. There might be an international weekend on its way, but the Madrid boss was well aware that he could not force his international stars to be rested for their nations. Instead, he at least made sure they had some time off this weekend.

Alvaro Morata was handed another chance to shine, but this time in a wider position, allowing Gonzalo Higuain a more central role. Kaka and Luka Modric also started, and Pepe was given a central role alongside the Croatian, with Mourinho going for what looks to be his strongest back line at the moment. More worrying, then, that Madrid's first-choice defence defended so shabbily against struggling Mallorca.

The first half was one to largely forget for Madrid, although Higuain at least answered some of his recent critics with a goal to level the scores at one point. Both the Argentine and fellow striker Karim Benzema have been criticized of late for wasting chances in front of goal, and Mourinho, eventually, gave them both a chance to answer those critics. Higuain did, with a brace of goals (and he should have had a hat-trick), and Benzema arrived late to the party but managed his goal, too, to wrap up the win.

It proved to be the proverbial game of two halves. Mourinho, no doubt disappointed with his side's first-half showing, brought on the big guns. Mesut Ozil and Benzema -- on for Morata, who struggled to have much of an impact out wide, and Alvaro Arbeloa. Sergio Ramos to right-back, Pepe, who, it has to be said, didn't do too badly in midfield and even put on the assist for Higuain's first-half goal, moving back to his preferred role at centre-back.

That left Modric -- who continues to improve but needs a better partner in the middle of the park than the out-of-position Pepe -- Kaka and Ozil all on the pitch. That trio is a rarity and a sign that Madrid was really going for it.

It worked.

Three goals in six minutes to all but kill the contest off. The first from a set-piece, Ozil providing the assist from the corner for Ronaldo to rise high and score his 43rd goal of the season. Next, Modric netted his third in Madrid colours superbly. Running on to a ball cleared by the Mallorca defence, he rifled a long-range effort into the back of the net. The former Tottenham Hotspur man is certainly growing on the Madrid faithful. The fourth, assist-king Ozil putting another on a plate for Higuain. Six minutes that killed off any hopes Mallorca had of leaving the Spanish capital with what would have been a shock three points.

And that was that.

The negatives? More problems defending set-pieces, a lacklustre first-half. The positives? A second-half improvement, one that may well have been missing earlier in the season. Modric's performance, especially in the second half. Goals for Higuain and Benzema. Madrid players playing with a smile on their faces. A daft thing to look at, maybe, but those smiles have been missing for much of the season and they're back at just the right time.

Mourinho will quickly draw a line under that performance and jet off to Turkey to see Galatasaray play their league match Sunday. A shared flight back with Terim and a few glasses of fine wine? Probably not. Madrid hide few secrets from the opposition, however, and Mourinho will probably get a lot more from going to see the Turkish club play than Terim will have got from watching in the Bernabeu.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter @nicholasrigg

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