Three amigos provide Liga balm for Real

Posted by Rob Train

David Cameron has been banging on about Trident quite a bit lately. In the face of the threat of North Korea going ballistic, the British prime minister is erring on the side of caution in asking parliament to consider the benefit of hanging on to the nation's nuclear deterrent, you know, just in case...

Trident costs a bloody fortune. But it does the job, to a certain extent. Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria didn't arrive at Real Madrid for a pint and a bag of dry roasted either, but the attacking triumvirate at Jose Mourinho's disposal performs a similar task in warding off the danger presented by the rogue states of La Liga.

- Madrid rips Levante

There is little subtle about Levante. Its signature formation away from the confines of the Ciutat de Valencia is two banks of four, with a penchant for pre-emptive strikes when the chance arises. In the form of Michel, the visitor did just that at the Bernabeu in taking the lead against a Real side with other concerns playing on their mind. But Real is no stranger to going behind this season; if anything, it wouldn't be bad idea for teams visiting the capital to make a point of keeping the score at 0-0 for 80 minutes then having a crack during the final 10. Scoring against Real at home this season has invited all manner of drubbings, and Saturday night's game was no different.

Gonzalo Higuain is hitting form at an opportune moment for Mourinho, and canceled out Michel's opener with a wonderful volleyed goal -- a unicycle kick, if you will -- before Kaka put the hosts ahead from the spot. But Real struggled to break down a resilient Levante until Mourinho deployed Trident -- Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria.

There is something about Real that doesn't quite look right this season. No club has like-for-like replacements for its grandest stars, but when Real lacks the three prongs of this particular fork, a devil-may-care attitude erupts among opposing teams. It is as if Ronaldo's presence, or otherwise, conditions the attitude of a rival team.

Before the introduction of the three amigos, Levante looked capable of nicking a point from a side naturally distracted by the rigors of Europe. When the three combined to turn a respectable loss into chastening defeat, it brought to mind Chevy Chase and the lip balm faces of Martin Short and Steve Martin. A drop of good cheer? Thirsty isn't the word. There may be little at stake for Real in the league but target practice is all well and good.

On the bench for only the third time in his Real career, Ronaldo was clear about priorities after the game: "My future isn't important, what's important is Real Madrid and to keep winning. I'm happy, to score goals is important but my job is to help the team. I want to play always but it's the boss's decision and you have to accept that; he always wants the best for the team."

Of his side's penchant for falling behind, only to tear through opposing teams, the Portugal captain was blunt: "It seems as though we have to concede a goal to wake up. The league is pretty much impossible but we have to keep winning to keep confidence up."

That confidence is born of the spectacular front three the number 7 forms with his German and Argentinean colleagues. Real's squad is such that "pedestrian" is an affront, but Mourinho's team looked to be strolling through this one until the introduction of its game-winning front three. Higuain is approaching top form while Karim Benzema, lined up with his striker rival in a rare double jeopardy on the coach's part, looks to be back on the chart.

But Real's real hope -- its Obi-wan hologram -- is that Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria remain fit for the run-in. Levante sniffed blood in their absence and was only prevented from feasting on the carcass of a dead Liga challenge late on. The bells are already chiming for the end of an era at the Bernabeu -- Florentino Perez needs to make sure that it does not toll for the contracts tying these three to the club. Lose them, and he'll have a lot more to worry about than Levante.

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