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Champions League: Analysis from Real Madrid vs. CSKA Moscow

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21: Cristiano Ronaldo (C) of Real Madrid runs with the ball past Ahmed Musaab (2nd L) and Alan Dzagoev (R) of CSKA Moskva during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, first leg match between CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid at the Luzhniki Stadium on February 21, 2012 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)
Harry Engels/Getty Images
Thomas HallettCorrespondent IIFebruary 22, 2012

Real Madrid were undone by a late equaliser from debutant Pontus Wernbloom away to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. Not only was it a disappointment at having failed to continue their unbeaten run in the competition, it also highlighted the ability to lose concentration—at least from a number of individuals.

The troubles of Russia and the Luzhniki stadium played their part, with Madrid unable to play their quick, fluid game. The pitch was awkward, the conditions were freezing, and it just wasn't happening in front of goal for Jose Mourinho's men.

Despite going a goal down to Real Madrid in the first half and squandering a number of opportunities for them to go further ahead, CSKA never dropped their heads. They continued to crowd the Madrid penalty area and deliver dangerous balls from the wide areas. The late, late equaliser was a trait of a team who have regularly picked up points out of nowhere.

The disappointment will surely be with the Madrid defenders, who were unable to clear the danger and allow CSKA so much time with which to snatch a draw. But for much of the game, the Russians played without fear, exploiting space behind the full-backs and using the pace of Ahmed Musa to great effect.

Sergei Chepchugov's performance on the night was heroic, to say the least. As backup to the injured Igor Akinfeev, he was sure to see much of the ball and perhaps pick it up out of his net on more than one occasion.

But the Russian was not to be beaten—at least not more than once. An early save from Sami Khedira proved to be much of what we would see from CSKA's keeper, and Real Madrid were left frustrated for much of the night. He made himself big, attacked the Madrid forwards and made sure the score line was kept down.

It was quite clear the visitors were going to dominate the game. Real Madrid saw more of possession—albeit only just ahead with 52 percent—and the home side would have to rely on their counter-attacking abilities if they were to get anything from the game.

But CSKA were not going to shy away from letting their attacking players express themselves. Keisuke Honda was introduced in the second half in replacement of a defensive option, and the home side started to open up a number of potential scoring chances.

Through much of the first half, we saw Madrid expose the weaknesses and highlight their own strengths, but they failed to capitalise on a number of good opportunities.

The decision to bring on the rusty Raul Albiol for Mesut Ozil with just over five minutes remaining may have been enough to encourage the CSKA attackers. Madrid had removed a key asset to their possession game, and the introduction of striker Tomas Necid indicated they were going to fight till the final whistle for a goal.

It was Alvaro Arbeloa's poor challenge at the death that allowed the home side to win the ball in the Madrid box and set up Wernbloom for his goal. The weak effort from the full-back was not the first mistake on the night, as he conceded possession to allow Moscow an attack on goal early in the first half

A disappointing result, of course, but far from a damaging one. CSKA will be encouraged by the way they played and that they restricted Madrid to just one goal, but the result won't be similar at the Bernabeu. The conditions will be much better, Madrid will be quicker in their attacks, and Ronaldo will surely come up with another goal to continue his scoring form.

Moreover, the centre-back partnership of Pepe and Sergio Ramos were excellent again. Fearless in their approach and allowing Madrid to push the opposition high up, it is likely we'll see a game in the second leg where Madrid keep the ball in Moscow's half. The counter-attacking threat from the Russians will be there, but the pace of the Madrid defenders will be enough to see off CSKA's attackers.

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