x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Win over Manchester City stops slide for Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo's game-winning goal didn't just lift Real Madrid over Manchester City, it hoisted up hopes in the Bernabeu that the season was not lost, writes Andy Mitten.

Real Madrid's coach Jose Mourinho slid on the pitch and celebrated after Cristiano Ronaldo scored the game-winner against Manchester City in their Champions League match.
Real Madrid's coach Jose Mourinho slid on the pitch and celebrated after Cristiano Ronaldo scored the game-winner against Manchester City in their Champions League match.

What a difference a goal makes. Jose Mourinho, having regained his composure after sliding on to his knees on the Bernabeu turf to replicate the last-minute goal scored by Cristiano Ronaldo against Manchester City, told journalists how he enjoyed the fact that they would have had to press "delete, delete, delete" on whatever they had written.

With five minutes of the game remaining, Real Madrid were trailing City and the mood among the Spanish media was unforgiving.

One win and three defeats from your first five games of the season is simply not good enough when you are Real Madrid, nor is an eight-point deficit on Barcelona after just four matches.

The pressure had been on Mourinho before the match, but he did two things which showed his mettle.

Firstly, he changed tack - rather than be critical of his team, as he had been at the weekend, he acknowledged: "I haven't been able to keep my players motivated and focused. I think that it is possible to have a better squad-player relationship than the one I have."

Then he showed who is boss - and at Madrid, where club presidents have been known to pick the side, that is not a given - by making a bold, brave decision.

He left the non-scoring Karim Benzema on the bench alongside a Sergio Ramos, who had been critical of his boss after the weekend defeat to Sevilla.

He replaced him by giving a debut to the 19-year-old Raphael Varane at the heart of the Madrid defence. Ramos will be careful about offering future criticisms.

Luka Modric, Kaka and Mesut Ozil were also left on the most expensive bench in football. With Edin Dzeko, Joleon Lescott, Jack Rodwell and Sergio Aguero on the City bench, has there ever been a pricier collection of substitutes?

For long stretches of the match, Mourinho's decision did not look vindicated as his profligate charges failed to score. The knives were sharpening in the press box - and I know because I was there and I had to rewrite my piece five times in 20 minutes - until Ronaldo scored a dramatic winner.

The mood lifted in an instant, Madrid fans applauded their heroes off the pitch and the doubts about their team and their coach dissipated.

"Madrid have a Team" screamed the front page of Marca.

What a difference a goal can make indeed.

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