Poor finishing taints Real win

Posted by Rob Train

Carlo Ancelotti pronounced himself satisfied after Real Madrid's 2-0 victory over Malaga at a damp and subdued Bernabeu on Saturday afternoon, but he might have been a lot happier had his side been more ruthless in front of goal. Playing in an unfamiliar siesta-time kick-off, Real largely failed to capitalize on the visitor's lethargy despite being camped in the opposing half for much of the game.

- Report: Real Madrid 2-0 Malaga
- Corrigan: Three things: Real Madrid v Malaga

Former Real coach Bernd Schuster had set his side up to avoid too ungainly a fall, playing a rigid formation with little in the way of bite at the business end of the pitch. In fairness to the German, who led Real to the league title in 2007-08, he doesn't have a lot to work with following the cherry-picking of the side he inherited from Manuel Pellegrini. Ancelotti, on the other hand, has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, yet opted for a workmanlike engine room of Asier Illarramendi and Sami Khedira. This was efficient enough in terms of retrieving the ball, but Malaga did itself no favors when in possession either, often gifting possession to the home side.

In the absence of Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata was handed the job of leading the line and the academy product did his claim to a permanent role no harm at all in an all-action performance that earned him an ovation when he was substituted in the second half. But Morata also did nothing to concern the embattled France striker in terms of the starting spot, despite finding the net in the 21st minute from an offside position -- Real's Achilles heel in a straightforward match was marked as much by its domination as a general inability to avoid incurring the raised flag of the linesman.

That, and the inspired performance of Willy Caballero in the Malaga goal prevented a more emphatic victory that would have been tonic to Ancelotti ahead of a far sterner test on Wednesday when Juventus visits the Bernabeu. As it transpired, Real's goals were both hugely fortunate, and three disallowed efforts were correctly adjudged by the officials. Angel di Maria, who is playing himself into the reckoning of an undisputed starter, bagged the first when his arched cross failed to meet Cristiano Ronaldo's head but sneaked past Caballero at the far post just after the restart. The Portuguese later smashed home a penalty after Gareth Bale made the most of an innocuous challenge inside the area. It was a harsh end to a valiant effort in damage limitation by Malaga, which after the opening goal threw men back rather than forward and tried -- and occasionally succeeded -- to strike on the break. But a paucity of finishers in the ranks of the Anchovies was demonstrated when a pull back from the left evaded three unattended Malaga players in the Real box.

Real's problem on the day was the exact opposite; although Ancelotti's side created a host of chances and rarely ceded possession, a lack of killer instinct was apparent. Benzema may well have filled his boots after a return to the scoring habit with Les Bleus, but despite knocking on the door with regularity, Real couldn't quite get its foot over the threshold. Ronaldo appeared to apologize for his rare profligacy after converting the penalty, and Morata's afternoon was summed up by a sublime piece of skill to keep a move alive on the touchline, swiftly followed by the first touch of a garbage truck to cede the ball straight back. The 20-year-old clearly has the instruments to be a fine striker, but as yet he lacks the harmony to fully orchestrate Real's attack.

"It was a good game, I liked the attitude of the team," said Ancelotti after the match. "We defended well, we were more aggressive and compact and we created a lot of goalscoring opportunities. I hope in the next games we have the same intensity."

The Italian could do worse than handing Dani Carvajal the right-back role in perpetuity to ensure another barnstorming performance from the former Leverkusen player. His link-up play with Di Maria gave Real another attacking outlet as effective as the Marcelo-Ronaldo partnership on the left and had Malaga twisted and turned fully out. Isco and Ronaldo's understanding grows by the game, as displayed in a miniature masterpiece in the 65th minute to carve out a chance, and Illarramendi did nothing to suggest he does not belong in the starting line-up; all food for thought for Ancelotti.

On the downside, Bale was as leaden as the skies above the capital in his 15-minute cameo, his only real contribution a frantic run and tumble to essentially rob Malaga of a loss by the finest of margins. It remains to be seen how the former Tottenham man is to contribute to a Real Madrid side that functions perfectly well without him. Another one for Ancelotti to ponder in the wee hours.

The Italian's other major headache was not even an issue on the day: Diego Lopez started but barely had to make a save, giving the Bernabeu -- outsung by the numerous traveling contingent for large periods of the game -- no reason to demand the still-benched Iker Casillas. If anything became clear as the first rains of winter descended on the capital, it was that if the Spain captain does leave, Real could do worse than sign Caballero in his place.


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