Real Madrid advances, but serious worries remain

Sportsnet's James Sharman breaks down what went wrong for Roma against Real Madrid in the Champions League, with wasted opportunities making way for Cristiano Ronaldo to take over.

Here’s what happened on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League…

Match report: Real Madrid 2, AS Roma 0
Match report: Wolfsburg 1, Gent 0

Real wins, but worries remain
Not to take anything away from Real Madrid’s Round of 16 victory over AS Roma, which was los blancos’ first two-legged European tie win over an Italian opponent since 1987 when they beat Maradona’s Napoli in the first round of European Cup. Real was clearly the better team over the two legs—as evidence by their 4-0 aggregate win against Roma—and fully deserved to advance to the quarterfinals for a sixth straight season.

Still, Tuesday’s victory at the Bernabeu was a laboured affair, the Spanish outfit struggling to break down Roma and lucky not to be down 2-0 or 3-0 going into the halftime break. The Giallorossi’s failure to score on this night owed more to their wastefulness in front of goal, and was not at all a reflection on the quality of Madrid’s defending. Both Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko spurned glorious opportunities, firing into the side netting—and not even forcing Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas into action—after being played in alone on goal.

The most egregious example came in the first half when Salah drove down the right flank—riding two tackles along the way—and played a lovely ball into the middle. Stephan El Shaarawy expertly dummied it into the box for a wide-open Dzeko who misfired. Lovely build-up play by the Italians, but the end product was woeful.

It was no mistake that most of Roma’s chances came down the right side, as they went after Real left fullback Marcelo. Salah repeatedly skinned Marcelo and accelerated into the acres of space behind the attack-minded Brazilian, who was dreadful on the night from a defensive perspective.

This is a very good Real Madrid team going forward, but defensively, they play as individuals rather as a team. There’s little cohesion and organization in the back line, and one can’t help but come to the conclusion that a truly elite team in Europe (say Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Paris Saint-Germain) would take advantage of this and ruthlessly punish and exploit them, something Roma couldn’t do.

For all of Real’s sparkling play, they’re defending is pretty suspect at times, and they’re going to have trouble in the next round against a better calibre of opponent.

MORE ON THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Real Madrid advances, but worries remain || Ronaldo: So good, circumstances can’t stop him || Photo Gallery: 10 players to watch || Photo Gallery: Round of 16 matchups || Chelsea-PSG braced for second leg ‘war’

Real Madrid finally broke the deadlock in the 64th minute with a great team goal. Luka Modrić ventured forward before slipping a pass to Lucas Vázquez, who only came on as a substitute three minutes earlier. Vázquez did a few step-overs before feeding an inch-perfect cross to Cristiano Ronaldo to volley in at the near post.

Gent goalkeeper Matz Sels came up with a huge stop in the 18th minute, diving to parry Josuha Guilavogui’s left-footed blast from distance out of danger.

The Bernabeu faithful show their class as Franceso Totti made an appearance (perhaps his last one) at the venerable stadium:

“This show of thanks in an extraordinary stadium means I have given something to football.” — Franceso Totti

• Real Madrid on Tuesday failed to score in the first half for the third time in this year’s Champions League.
• Cristiano Ronaldo has scored five goals in six Champions League games vs. Roma. In total, he now has 90 goals in 123 Champions League games.
• Real Madrid have scored in their last 28 Champions League games at home, the longest run in the competition.
• Real Madrid is the only team yet to concede a goal at home in the Champions League this season.
• Ronaldo has earned 27 assists in the Champions League, four more than any other current player.
• Cristiano Ronaldo has 13 goals in this Champions League; that’s two more AS Roma have as a team.
Stats courtesy of Opta


1) Cristiano Ronaldo: Just another day at the office for the Portuguese, who scored one goal and set up another.
2) Luka Modric: The Croatian was magnificent on the night, showing off great passing range and a drive to get forward. Had a hand in setting up Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal.
3) Matz Sels: He was solid in a losing effort, making two big saves to keep the Belgian side in the game.

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