It’s actually been over 30 years since Real Madrid last staged an epic European Cup comeback, but that didn’t stop them talking up the prospects of overturning their 2-0 first leg defeat to Wolfsburg on Wednesday – what else could they do?
“We will give our lives at the Bernabeu,” was Jese’s battle cry and the rhetoric will be similarly Braveheart-esque from here to the second leg.
Back in 1985 Real were beaten 2-0 by Inter Milan in the San Siro but won the second game 3-0. And they lost 2-0 to Celtic in 1980 only to again win the second leg at home 3-0.
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A 3-0 scoreline next week will be enough to see them through but let’s hope for their sake they set about their task using their heads as well as their hearts – if not they will be picked off in much the same way as they were in the Volkswagen Arena.
Not since they appointed Wolfgang Wolf as their manager in 1998 have Wolfsburg had so many football supporters the world over smiling a wry smile – only Real Madrid could turn in their best performance of the season and then their worst in the space of four days.
On Monday, Spanish sports paper Diario AS published some tactical notes scrawled on to four match grids that had been sent to them just before the Clasico kicked-off. On what was clearly Real Madrid-headed note paper we could see Zinedine Zidane’s masterplan and even if the notes were not genuinely from Zizou and his staff, they certainly set-up the way Real went on to play as they became the first side to defeat Barcelona in 40 games.
We are still waiting for the leaked crib notes from Wednesday’s debacle. We can only speculate on how many arrows emanate from right-back Danilo and what direction they are pointing.
Barcelona supporters were almost put out by the result because it blew apart the conspiracy theory that Real Madrid had been gift-wrapped a favourable draw being paired with the worst side left in the competition. The statistics were damning too. Real Madrid had run just 10.4km on average per player. That number was up over 11km when they beat Roma in the last round. Were they tired or just confused?
Zidane seemed not to have planned for Wolfsburg’s counter-attacking approach to the game. And even if he twigged midway through the first half he was helpless to stop Julian Draxler’s domination.
How could he have got things so right on Saturday and then so wrong in Germany? Marcelo’s bizarre attempt at getting Maximilian Arnold sent off – Zidane will not have seen anyone go down like that in front of him since Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final – distracted some of the attention away from the tactical black hole into which the 10-times European Cup winners seemed to have fallen.

Real Madrid's French coach Zinedine Zidane (r) stands by Wolfsburg's midfielder Julian Draxler

Image credit: AFP

They can pick themselves up. There were some plus points: Gareth Bale was outstanding and looks back to his best, and they could have gone ahead from Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal ruled out for offside. The freeze frame image has him just a short quiff beyond the last defender – when did attacking players stop getting the benefit of the doubt on such tight offside calls?
If those two are firing on Tuesday night and Real score early then Wolfsburg may get stage fright and crumble, but such ‘ifs and buts’ should never have been necessary.
Zidane has another wolf at the door too. With Manchester United still procrastinating over hiring Jose Mourinho this summer any failing from the French coach will have the Out Of Work One winking Florentino Perez’s way once more.
Jose got Real Madrid into the Champions League semi-finals in each of his three seasons at the club. It’s the bare minimum Zidane needs to go confidently into next season.
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