x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

‘BBC’ easy as 1-2-3 as goals flow in bunches for Real Madrid

Attacking trio have 10 goals between them in last two league matches

Cristiano Ronaldo, left, Karim Benzema, centre, and Gareth Bale of Real Madrid are finally delivering on the attacking promise suggested by their individual talent. Gerard Julien / AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo, left, Karim Benzema, centre, and Gareth Bale of Real Madrid are finally delivering on the attacking promise suggested by their individual talent. Gerard Julien / AFP

A new nickname, now shorthand for prolific attacking play, has been coined in Madrid during the last week. The most devastating potential strike force in Europe is now known simply as “BBC”.

It is an abbreviation: B for Bale, B for Benzema and C for Cristiano. The names are listed not in order of importance – Cristiano Ronaldo never comes last in anything – but as they line up, right to left, across the front three.

Real Madrid spent close to €250 million (Dh1.24 billion) buying the three stars. In their last two league matches, a blistering BBC have scored 10 goals between them.

Time was that ahead of a Champions League meeting between Madrid and Juventus, the Serie A title-holders, the latter would have puffed out their chests at the ultra-expensive trio and said, “Bring it on. We’ve got our own BBC –brave, bullish and crafty”.

That would be B for Barzagli, B for Bonucci and C for Chiellini. That trio of defenders was at the heart of Juve’s superb defensive record in their successive scudetto seasons from 2011 to 2013.

Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini also formed the preferred rearguard for Italy, for most of their route to the last European final.

Tonight, though, to the Juve head coach Antonio Conte’s irritation, Chiellini is missing, suspended thanks to his red card against Madrid in the Spanish club’s 2-1 win two weeks ago.

Chiellini had a rough night then, conceding a penalty for holding Sergio Ramos, and then was dismissed, unjustly in his view, for impeding Ronaldo. For the fifth consecutive match in Europe, the reputation of Juve’s fabled defensive strength took a knock.

They have conceded nine goals in their last five Champions League matches, a statistic offering unfavourable comparisons with the mean records – 44 goals conceded in 76 Serie A games – they maintained on the way to their last two domestic triumphs.

Were Chiellini available, Conte would probably still have tailored his defence specifically to cater for a resurgent Bale, now apparently over the fitness problems that hampered the Welshman’s first two months at Madrid.

Conte is the coach who brought the 3-5-2 formation back into fashion, with wing-backs either side of his BBC, but against a Madrid with the counter-attacking speed of Bale and Ronaldo, that looks risky.

As Claudio Marchisio, the versatile Juventus midfielder, pointed out after Sunday’s 1-0 win against Parma, their third domestic clean sheet in a row after letting in four goals against Fiorentina and two at AC Milan: “Madrid have players who break very quickly, like Bale, Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria.”

The danger of leaving space behind the full-backs, with Ronaldo cutting inside from wide left and Bale from wide right, is significant.

But Conte has a dilemma. Juventus have a mere two points from their first three matches in Group B and stand two spots beneath second-placed Galatasaray. Juve need to be aggressive and will be encouraged by the lapses displayed by Real even as the BBC trident has been racking up goals.

Against Sevilla last Wednesday, Madrid conceded three; against bottom-of-La-Liga Rayo Vallecano, they let in another two. Both times, Madrid held a 3-0 lead.

“Our second halves were a disaster,” said Carlo Ancelotti, the Madrid coach.

Conte seems inclined to mirror Madrid’s 4-3-3 formation with Angelo Ogbonna rather than the more attacking Kwadwo Asamoah guarding Bale’s flank, and Martin Caceres at right-back as the principal minder of Ronaldo.

Conte will also closely watch Xabi Alonso’s return to action after a long absence with injury. The long-range passing accuracy of the Spain international midfielder strengthens Madrid’s counter-attacking. Marchisio, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal will be charged with restricting Alonso’s time and space on the ball.

“We have limited opponents’ chances at goal,” Marchisio said. “Even in Madrid, down to 10 men, we stayed focused and caused them problems. They have huge strength going forward, but their attacking players don’t help out much defensively. There will be pressure on their defence and we need to make chances out of that.”


11.45pm, Al Jazeera Sport