Real Madrid 1-0 Osasuna: Özil stars in narrow victory on Mourinho’s home debut

September 13, 2010

The starting line-ups

The Jose Mourinho effect: Real Madrid averaged exactly three goals per game at home last season – here, they began with just one, but it was enough to get the three points.

Mourinho made four changes from the opening day draw at Mallorca, giving full debuts to Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira and a surprise start to Karim Benzema on the right. Sergio Ramos shifted across to right-back, so Pepe came in.

Jose Antonio Camacho went for a defensive-minded 4-2-3-1 system, omitting Walter Pandiani, who started their opening day 0-0 draw at home to Almeria just behind the main striker, and instead playing Fernando Soriano there.

The game started in the expected fashion – Real dominated the ball, with Osasuna getting 8, 9 or sometimes even 10 men behind the ball, and trying to stay compact. The home side’s initial tactic seemed to be to get the ball quickly to Cristiano Ronaldo, in order for him to take on Damia Perez 1 v 1, but having returned from injury sooner than expected, Ronaldo didn’t look 100% fit and gave a relatively low-key performance, aside from some fancy flicks.

Quiet first half

As the game settled down, it was noticeable how often Ronaldo and Benzema came in from their respective flanks, in order to open up space for Marcelo and Sergio Ramos to overlap. Real’s best chance of the first half actually came when Ramos made a run inside Benzema – Ignacio Monreal was therefore reluctant to go and close down the Frenchman, and his cross found Gonzalo Higuain, who missed from close-range.

The away side were basically defending very well – their forward players dropped deep when they lost the ball, and only looked to press once Real played the ball into their midfield players. At some points Carlos Aranda dropped in on Xabi Alonso whilst Soriano took care of Sami Khedira, so Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho found it difficult to find an available pass, faced with 8 v 10 ahead of them. Indeed, such was Real’s dominance and Aranda’s tendency to move deep inside his own half, one of the centre-backs could have stepped up into midfield when in possession – both certainly have the ability to do so.

Osasuna rarely constructed meaningful attacks, although they did push their full-backs forward on the break. Juanfran and Damia combined well down the right, and Osasuna showed some ambition to get a goal – at one point Damia got forward looked to cross the ball, and there were three Osasuna players in the box, with one loitering just outside. It may have been a defensive-minded set-up from Camacho, but he had come to try and score.

Second half

The one Real player who showed glimpses of brilliance in the first half was Mesut Ozil. His positioning was similar to at the World Cup – he played between the lines, but so high up that the opposition holding players were reluctant to drop that deep, and therefore left him to the centre-backs, who were troubled by his excellent movement.

It was Özil who created the goal, after a move that started in Real’s own penalty box. As mentioned in relation to Everton yesterday, it’s amazing how often sides fail to break down opponents who are content to sit deep and put men behind the ball, and then ruthlessly hit them on the break on a rare occasion their opponents actually move high up the pitch. That’s the nature of modern football, and Mourinho’s display of counter-attacking in the Champions League final at the Bernabeu shows how patient his sides can be (indeed, if you look at Inter’s line-up in that game with Real’s in this one, it’s amazing how similar they are – a nominal striker on the right flank, and a playmaker playing left-of-centre). Here, Özil squared to Ronaldo and the ball eventually found its way to Carvalho, who converted.

After that, Osasuna found it difficult to change their defensive mindset into something more positive, and ended up simply pushing their defence and midfield higher up the pitch, and leaving more gaps between the lines for Real – and in particular Özil – to exploit. It was the German’s movement that dragged Osasuna’s left-sided centre-back Miguel Flaño out and created space for Higuain to run onto a through ball from Pepe, but he again missed.

Özil was running the show – his movement to drag defenders around was superb, and just as against Australia and Ghana in the World Cup, he was so effective at exploiting the space between defence and midfield. He went close with a chip past the far post, before creating yet another wasted chance for Higuain. He fully deserved his standing ovation when substituted in stoppage time.

In truth, Osasuna rarely threatened, with Alonso and Khedira remaining solidly ahead of the defence, and it was a comfortable end for Real.


We learnt little about Real here, although the inclusion of Benzema as a right-winger was surprise. He performed reasonably well there – his movement and crossing was good, although he was rarely tested defensively. Just as Mourinho fielded his number nine at Inter, Samuel Eto’o in an unfamiliar wide role, he looks to be doing the same with Benzema.

Özil was the star attraction, playing in a leftish playmaker role and causing Osasuna no end of problems with his positioning and movement, let alone with what he actually did on the ball. The understanding between Khedira and Alonso in the centre of midfield was also good, although it was slightly surprise to see Alonso playing deeper than Khedira – the two were effectively the other way around for their respective countries at the World Cup.

The game also showed the danger of underdogs going away to big sides and having some level of ambition. Had Osasuna not thrown so many men forward for the free-kick, they wouldn’t have conceded the Carvalho goal and they might – might – have won a point.

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