Özil shines for Madrid, while Dortmund does everything but score
Jose Mourinho managed to neutralize his former players Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder as Real Madrid ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Galatasaray in its Champions League quarterfinal first leg. Meanwhile Borussia Dortmund remains the only unbeaten team left in the competition after drawing 0-0 with Malaga, even though it created more chances. Here is the rundown of tonight's action:
1. Özil is magic as Madrid cruises. Ronaldo will take the plaudits, and with good reason. He set Real Madrid on its way to a 3-0 win over Galatasaray with an early goal, his ninth of this European season -- but Madrid is close to its third straight semifinal in the Mourinho era partly because of the brilliance of Mesut Özil.
It was somewhat overlooked in the buildup to the game that Özil has Turkish parents. Before Germany, the country of his birth, took on Turkey in a Euro 2012 qualifying match in October 2010, he came up with the memorable sound bite: "My technique and feel for the ball is the Turkish side of my game; the discipline and attitude all come from Germany." (As an aside, one of his opponents in that match, Hamit Altintop, was playing for Galatasaray tonight. He also grew up in the Ruhr region but declared nationality for Turkey, and suggested that Özil had opted for Germany to increase his transfer value.)
Marca calls him 'The Wizard of Oz' and has anointed him a future Ballon D'Or winner. "He is Real Madrid's most refined player," wrote the paper earlier this season. "He undoes opponents with a skill that belongs to the most talented and imaginative players."
Once again, Özil's eye for the pass made a difference. Remember, it was his back-heel that released Gonzalo Higuain for the winning goal against Manchester United in the previous round; it took only nine minutes of this tie to slide a perfectly weighted pass for Ronaldo, who took one touch before chipping it over Fernando Muslera to put the host ahead. Since joining Madrid in 2010, only Lionel Messi has more assists than Özil in the Champions League.
Galatasaray, to its credit, was undeterred and kept on pushing forward. Coach Fatih Terim, still looking for the ideal solution to the 'Sneijder Problem' -- where best to field former Inter Milan (and Real Madrid) midfielder Wesley Sneijder -- started the Dutchman behind Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz, but his first-half impact was minimal. The fact that he was subbed off at the break told its own story (though he did miss last weekend's match with a groin injury, which will be his defense).
That said, Galatasaray did create chances: Drogba had two early sighters from outside the area, one just over, the other punched clear by Diego Lopez. He also forced Raphael Varane into a saving tackle as he bore down on goal; but by then, Madrid had doubled its lead.
The goal was a sloppy one for this level of competition: a looping cross from the right flank by Michael Essien, a surprise selection from Jose Mourinho, which flew over Emmanuel Eboue's head, for Karim Benzema, another big Mourinho pick, to poke it home. The goal summed up Galatasaray's deficiencies at the back, though it did have grounds for complaint as a high Benzema challenge had previously gone unpunished. Eboue had a chance to make amends as the first half drew to a close, but his shot was well saved by Lopez, who has been an outstanding January purchase.
Madrid controlled the second half well, and could have increased the lead had Angel di Maria not squandered a one-on-one with Muslera. It fell to a substitute, Higuain, to gleefully head home Xabi Alonso's free-kick on 73 minutes to make next week's game in Istanbul far less tricky for Madrid.
Galatasaray's rotten night was sealed when Burak Yilmaz was booked for diving after Sergio Ramos had stepped on his foot, ruling out the top scorer from the second leg (expect Terim to field Sneijder behind Drogba next week). Late on, Ramos himself was booked, in a classic 'Mourinho team ploy', ruling himself out of the return game too -- and of course, therefore ensuring his availability in a likely semifinal. Cynical, or sensible?
The post-match may focus on another Ronaldo strike, his goal number 45 of the season, and Mourinho's two forwards both getting on the score-sheet; but Madrid's softly-spoken number ten is the man pulling the strings.
2. Will Dortmund rue missed chances? The hipsters' match of choice had everything in it but a goal. Once again Borussia Dortmund put on a high-tempo pressing-game master-class, cutting through Malaga's defense far too easily, especially in the first half-hour.
The host was only kept in the tie because goalkeeper Willy Caballero kept out Mario Gotze in two one-on-ones inside the first ten minutes, and, late on in that period, punched away a swirling Sebastien Kehl effort.
Malaga only showed glimpses of its danger, and mainly from set-pieces. Just before the break, Joaquin's corner was headed goalwards by Julio Baptista but kept out by Roman Weidenfeller.
If Malaga boss Mauricio Pellegrini told his team to tighten up at half-time, it didn't listen. Within two minutes of the restart, Robert Lewandowski, whose all-round play had been brilliant, had the chance of the match. A cross from the left, he was unmarked on the penalty spot, and he sliced his effort horribly.
Still Dortmund pressed on, but you kind of knew what was going to happen when Gotze ran onto the outstanding Ilkay Gundogan's brilliant pass only to drag his shot wide off the post.
Weidenfeller also had to be at his best when Isco jinked inside three markers on the left and fired a powerful shot too close to the keeper. The young Spanish winger had a quiet night, by his high standards.
As the second half wore on, Dortmund seemed unsure whether to stick or twist: it couldn't afford to be too gung-ho and leave spaces at the back, and Malaga seemed content to keep it to 0-0 and try and get an away goal in Germany.
Malaga, and specifically Caballero, can be pleased about one thing tonight: it is only the third team this season to have stopped Dortmund from scoring (after Stuttgart in December and Bayern in February). Dortmund surely won't be so wasteful in front of goal next week at home -- it has scored 11 goals in its last three matches at the Westfalenstadion -- but if the German side is to win the Champions League this season, it needs to improve on this.