Neymar could have scored, but his touch failed. Instead of a cold point-blank finish, he muffed it into the goalie’s arms. The Barca players all cringed. They’d worked that chance, a cross to a wide open Neymar, and 90 out of 100 times that's a goal. Gerard Piqué alone took down two men to make it happen, risking a card and a cracked skull. Now Madrid’s keeper, Iker Casillas, isn’t waiting around. He’s at the top of the box, and has just rolled the ball out to Toni Kroos. The Madrid attack is on.
This is what Madrid are built for.
They can move the ball vertically as quickly as anybody.
It’s Kroos to Ronaldo, who is still in his own half. He’s charged by Barca’s Iniesta too closely, and is able to knock it back then spin off and run forward, leaving the aged Iniesta to rot.
Ronaldo’s sprint is like a roadrunner’s — head forward, arms close to his body, his legs blur to fuzz.
He dropped the ball to Luka Modrić.
You go back to move forward sometimes.
Modrić is off it soon though.
He gets it out wide to their lost stallion, the most expensive player in the world who is yet the confident-less Welshmen, Gareth Bale. He may lack belief at the moment, but he has the pedigree to still draw the ire of two Barca defenders.
This goal is all about controlling the Barca defenders.
Control the eyes, control the defender.
Specifically, they control Javier Mascherano.
Once the ball reaches Barca’s defensive end, it’s 5 v 8 in favor of the defense. The Barca players have recovered, but the defense is flat, and it’s facing a Madrid attack that is spread wide and has depth. They look nice.
At the top of the screen, Isco occupies two.
At the bottom, Bale occupies two.
In the center, Ronaldo is covered by two more.
When you measure match-ups based on how many Madrid players occupy the same space as Barca's, that 5 v 8 is now 5 v 5.
That’s an offensive advantage.
Look at Ronaldo (star on his shoulder), he is literally just standing there, not in a good position to receive the ball, doing nothing but creating a focal point for the Barca players to watch. Making his previous kills work for him. That’s brilliant. Mascherano (M on his back) is infatuated with him. It’s his responsibility to be.
As the play goes, Modrić is closed down and he has a half second to get off it. He passes. Mascherano thinks he’s gonna eat his supper. He steps in front of Ronaldo, but that’s the decoy.
Ronaldo, the decoy.
He’s a man you have to stare at.
Brilliant for the part.
And, of course, the ball goes to the man you don’t see, to the third attacker — Karim Benzema.
Benzema’s run is right into the space Mascherano is leaving, it’s right through the heart of the defense.
You run to the space a man is running from.
Benzema is laughing like a bank robber because he knows he’s in the clear.
Mascherano turns and sees him.
What is he experiencing?
Watch it play out…
Benzema lets the ball run into the penalty box.
He runs with it to keep it shielded from Piqué, who is back and defending.
Ronaldo switches on.
He leaves Mascherano, another guy who can rot, and runs straight to the goal.
Benzema puts a little back-heel on the ball, one that’s sweet as it is devastating. It’s a flick, and it lulls the ball into a soft roll, nicely teed-up.
Prey plucked from the herd.
Now it’s a race.
Barca's Alves versus Ronaldo.
The scarcity of a goal makes the attacker work harder.
Our kill instinct is stronger than our one to protect.
To confine the game even more, Modrić’s run to the center and his eventual pass make the game a 3 v 3, where two defenders are covering one attacker and the third attacker is making a penetrating run.