Madrid fly past Copenhagen on wings of Di Maria

Posted by Rob Train

"My aim is to keep trying to convince Ancelotti that I want to play," said Angel di Maria after a fairly routine 4-0 win over FC Copenhagen. The victory affords Real Madrid a little respite after a couple weeks of the 'ifs' and 'buts' at the Bernabeu had threatened to undermine manager Carlo Ancelotti's blueprint before it even had a chance to be transferred from page to pitch.

- Report: Real Madrid 4-0 Copenhagen

Cristiano Ronaldo will likely hog the headlines in the morning after scoring a brace to mark his 100th European appearance -- which incidentally took his continental tally to 55, one shy of Ruud van Nistelrooy in the all-time scoring chart in Europe's elite competition -- but the night belonged to the scrappy Argentine winger, who has responded to the signing of Gareth Bale by making himself practically undroppable.

The Wales forward aggravated the muscle strain that delayed his home debut and was unavailable for Wednesday's encounter; in itself something of a selection relief for Ancelotti. The Italian explained after the match that he had tweaked his team to make more use of the wings, having seen his players pinned down through the middle in the derby loss to Atletico, and in the expectation that Copenhagen's ambition would not extend much further than trying to shut down the attack as best it could.

On the face of it, a 4-3-3 formation seemed to bring out the best of Real, although the opposition needs to be described as modest. But it was certainly an improvement on the team's performances against Elche -- hardly a European powerhouse -- and Real's erstwhile whipping boy Atletico.

Copenhagen rarely threatened the Real goal and although it reached halftime with the score at a very reasonable 1-0, the shoulders of Stale Solbakken's men visibly slumped after Ronaldo made it 2-0, applying the finishing touch to a move that had the Bernabeu on its feet: Karim Benzema, the object of now-ubiquitous jeering in the first period, back-heeled the ball to Di Maria, who pulled off a rabona that found the head of Ronaldo to hammer home.

The Frenchman's laissez-faire attitude infuriates Real fans, who would like to see a little more old-fashioned effort on the part of their main striker. But Benzema is a mercurial fellow, and not nicknamed "The Cat" for nothing. He has had a few lives at the Bernabeu, notably turning Jose Mourinho around early on his Madrid career, and despite hardly running himself into the turf, he will have gained a few grudging admirers for that piece of vision.

The return of Marcelo to the starting line-up gave Real a new dimension on the left, where the incision of the Brazilian full-back has been sorely missed. His fourth cross of the game resulted in the opening goal and Copenhagen had no answer to his lung-bursting activity. Luka Modric also excelled on that flank, having been handed the start at the expense of Isco. Moving impishly between the lines, the Croatian provided a much-needed link between the engine room and the glory boys, something which has also been slightly lacking while he has been required to fill a slightly more defensive role. Asier Illarramendi and Sami Khedira, who did impose himself on the game as he might have wished, lack intrinsic understanding, but in allowing Modric freedom, the formation will have Ancelotti's eyebrow working overtime in the next few days.

Where that will leave Florentino Perez pet-favorites Bale and Isco is the Italian's problem to solve, but the medical staff's decision to give the Welshman the time he needs to recover fully from his injury also lends Ancelotti some breathing room on a question that will require a measured response when asked.

Di Maria was undoubtedly the star turn of the evening, but the Bernabeu loves its legends. Iker Casillas, the part-time 'portero', was between the sticks and despite a rash charge into a crowded penalty area that afforded Nicolai Jorgensen a free header that the crossbar and Modric conspired to keep out, the Spain captain earned his coin during the visitor's late siege, making three decisive stops to maintain a clean sheet. A chorus of "Iker" duly resounded around the ground, but it is in the outfield that Ancelotti perhaps discovered the first inkling that his side can adapt to new systems, as he stated after the game that "strong teams" should be able to do.

As for the dissent in his direction at the outset of the match, the Real coach played a straight bat: "It's not a bad thing to be whistled, criticism is necessary."

After Wednesday, there will be notably less of that as Real shifted into the gear it found two weeks ago in Istanbul. The first showing of the Modric-Illarramendi-Khedira triumvirate was a positive one, even if that presents more questions than answers in view of Perez's grand design.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.