Terim's open tactics play straight into Madrid hands

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

In the end it was as comfortable a Champions League quarterfinal as it could be for Real Madrid. A 3-0 victory over Galatasaray in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu and one foot firmly in the semifinals.

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Three goals and a clean sheet -- Madrid's first clean sheet in the competition this season. Los Blancos had conceded in their last seven matches going into the game and had kept one clean sheet in their last 12 matches.

Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim promised to attack in the Spanish capital. It was the only way they knew how to play, he said, whether it be domestically in the Turkish league or against European giants such as Madrid -- a team going for La Decima this season. It proved to be their downfall.

The Turks, backed by a big and noisy following from Istanbul, huffed and puffed but could not blow the Madrid house down. In huffing, and puffing, the visitors were left exposed in midfield and at the back and their game plan worked like a charm for Jose Mourinho and his men, who tucked away three goals, and it could have been more.

"Even a 6-year-old knows how Real plays," said the Gala manager before the match. One would say Terim's approach before the match was a brave one, sticking to his principles. One wonders whether a more conservative approach would have kept his side in it going back to Istanbul.

Terim changed things at halftime, with Madrid leading 2-0 and the hosts picking gaps in his side all over the park. Wesley Sneijder, looking to be the hero going forward, left Galatasaray heavy in attack and light at the back. Gokhan Zan replaced the former Madrid man at halftime but the damage had mostly been done. Ifs and buts left to take back to Istanbul for the second leg.

There was no romantic story for Didier Drogba or Sneijder, former disciples of Mourinho at Chelsea and Inter Milan respectively, nor did Hamit Altintop pull up any trees on his return to the Spanish capital.

To be fair to Galatasaray, they posed a threat in the first half and started brightly. They came for an away goal and the way they set up, with five men pushing forward at most opportunities, gave them a bit of edge in the opening 45 minutes. Drogba swiveled around Raphael Varane but lacked composure and fired over, while Emmanuel Eboue struck good shots straight at Diego Lopez. The threat was there, and if the visitors had grabbed an away goal things would have looked different.

Xabi Alonso was instrumental. The Spanish international is one of Madrid's major players and, as well as talisman Ronaldo, he has to be catered for by the opposition on nights like this. He wasn't, and the midfielder was able to pull the strings with as much ease as he's been able to do all season.

He made a superb long pass to find Angel Di Maria for the first chance of the game, with Karim Benzema, preferred to Gonzalo Higuain, steering his header just over the bar. He provided a killer pass for Di Maria again in the second half but the Argentine couldn't capitalise. Alonso's night was complete when he set up the third goal, a superb dinked pass for Higuain to head home.

In leaving Felipe Melo as the only man protecting the back four, Galatasaray were asking for trouble and they got it.

After a decent start by Terim's men, assist machine Mesut Ozil put Ronaldo through and a fine finish had the hosts ahead. It was poor marking by Eboue, with the former Arsenal man losing the Portuguese -- and he's a man you don't want to lose.

Eboue was partly to blame for Madrid's second goal, too, ducking away from a Michael Essien cross and allowing Benzema to nip in just before the hour mark. You can't have slack marking at the Bernabeu and go away unpunished.

And praise for Mourinho's team selection. The only real surprise was seeing Essien start in place of Alvaro Arbeloa, but the Chelsea loan man played his part in keeping a clean sheet and provided the assist for Benzema's goal.

Much had been said about the lack of goals from Madrid's front two. Benzema and Higuain have not hit the heights of last season, but Mourinho went with the Frenchman and he didn't let him down. When his time was up, Higuain was introduced and he promptly impressed. A selection headache of a different nature awaits Mourinho for future matches.

"It's not important who scores or who doesn't, it's meaningless," said Mourinho before the match. Perhaps so, but the Madrid boss has got to be pleased with seeing all three of his main attacking threats on the score sheet.

An eye has also been cast over the competition between Lopez and Iker Casillas. Mourinho said it would be hard to drop Lopez, despite the return of "Saint Iker" to training, and it'll be even harder after Wednesday night's match. Lopez did not have to make any tricky saves, but the saves he did have to make, and his aerial ability from set pieces, were good.

It was interesting to see Lopez celebrate as if Madrid had scored a goal in injury time when his "wall" did enough to block a Didier Drogba free kick. He looks to be settling into the role just fine and the No. 1 spot could be his until the final, should Madrid get there.

A few other talking points were refereeing decisions. Burak Yilmaz could probably feel hard done by when he went down inside the box late in the second half. He was booked for diving, and will miss the second leg, but replays showed Sergio Ramos stood on the striker's foot.

Manchester United fans will also have been interested in Benzema's high boot that went unpunished. The Frenchman's challenge on his Galatasaray marker was similar to that of Nani's in the last round, the only difference being Benzema stayed on the pitch.

Alonso and Ramos will both miss the return leg after picking up bookings in the match -- Ramos' a ridiculous yellow for kicking the ball away in the buildup to Drogba's late free kick. Done on purpose with the tie wrapped up? Possibly -- Madrid will be hoping that one doesn't come back to bite them on the bum.

It shouldn't, with Madrid in a great position to edge closer to a 10th European crown.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter @nicholasrigg

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