Turkish league leaders and surprise Champions League quarter finalists Galatasaray took on Real Madrid today in the Spanish capital. Madrid may have been lucky with the draw in this match up, but after a tough round of 16 against Manchester United which saw the Spanish giants go through after Nani’s controversial red card, Los Blancos needed a statement game today and they delivered.
Galatasaray did not come out to sit behind the ball and created some danger going forward, but that also left a lot of the space at the back for Madrid’s attackers to exploit. The Turkish defense was unlocked in the 9th minute when Mesut Ozil played a beautiful ball in for a streaking Cristiano Ronaldo, who beat keeper Fernando Muslera with a wonderful chip shot.
The early goal was a huge confidence boost for Madrid, but Galatasaray continued to get forward and create chances. Didier Drogba had a great look at goal from the top of the box in the 12th minute, but he blasted his shot over the bar. Drogba tried again from further out in the 26th minute with some power and this time found the target, but the ball was parried away by Diego Lopez.
The Turks’ efforts to find a goal continued to open up space for Ronaldo, Ozil, Karim Benzema, and the rest of the Madrid attack, and the home side found another breakthrough in the 29th minute. A cross from Michael Essien, filling in at right back on the day, went over the head of Ronaldo and two Galatasaray defenders to fall right at the feet of Benzema. It was a sloppy play and a bit of luck for Madrid, but the Frenchman slotted the ball in nicely at the near post to make it 2-0.
Despite looking clearly outclassed, Galatasaray were hoping to pull one back before halftime and had perhaps their best chance of the game in the 44th minute. A neat one-two from Emmanuel Eboué and Drogba put Eboué clear through the Madrid defense, but the Ivorian shot right at Diego Lopez, who had another fine game between the goalposts for Real Madrid. Lopez has played excellently since captain Iker Casillas went down with a hand injury, and should keep his place for as long as Madrid can go in this competition if his good form continues.
At halftime, Galatasaray playmaker and January signing Wesley Sneijder came off for defender Gokhan Zan, which solidified the Turks at the back but removed a big part of the attacking ingenuity. The second half seemed to be played at a much more relaxed pace, with Madrid comfortably in front and prioritizing a clean sheet at home.
The Merengues got a third goal in 73rd minute when an exquisite Xabi Alonso free kick found the head of an unmarked Gonzalo Higuaín, who came on as a substitute for fellow striker Karim Benzema. Higuaín did not even have to jump to meet the curling ball and guided it past Muslera for his first goal in the Champions League this season.
Some controversy arose shortly after when Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz went down in the Madrid penalty area. Yilmaz, who entered the game as joint top scorer in the competition, appeared to have been stepped on by Sergio Ramos, but was booked for a dive instead and will miss the next match. Ramos and Alonso also received yellow cards that will keep them out of the return fixture, but those could definitely have been intentional with an eye on the next round. Madrid hung on to finish 3-0 and now take a sizable advantage with them to Istanbul next Tuesday.
It was as close to a perfect performance as Jose Mourinho’s side could have hoped for today in the quest for La Decima. Ronaldo, Benzema, and Higuaín all scored, which is especially important for the confidence of the latter two, who have not been on top form this season. Maybe more importantly, Madrid did not concede any away goals, and if they score one in Turkey the tie is all but over. Credit to coach Fatih Terim and his squad for coming out to play in the Bernabéu, but the Turks were certainly inferior and perhaps paid the price for attempting to go toe to toe with Madrid.
Yesterday, Bayern Munich put in a dominant performance at home to Juventus while Barcelona were unlucky to leave Paris with a 2-2 draw to PSG. In today’s other match up, Málaga and Borussia Dortmund both had their chances but finished 0-0 at La Rosaleda. With the return legs set for next week, Real, Barça, Bayern, and Dortmund look to be in the best positions to progress, although no team, not even Madrid, is assured of passage to the semi finals just yet.