Football Features

“Manor from heaven” – Five things learned as Shakhtar slap a risible Real Madrid for the second time this season

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:23, 1 December 2020

In an incredible night of football, Shakhtar Donetsk beat Real Madrid for the second time this season, winning 2-0 at home.

The win puts Shakhtar ahead of Madrid on a head-to-head and leaves Los Blancos in a terrible position ahead of next week’s penultimate matchday. What did we learn?

1. Real Madrid are not very good

It’s time we acknowledged something that we all have known for a very long time but can no longer ignore: Real Madrid are not very good. That’s it. They are fundamentally not a good football team. Their 10-game sprint to win La Liga last season was admirable but required repeated relief from referees and Barcelona repeatedly sabotaging themselves; and even then the football wasn’t good.

Now, without the momentum they built up in that run, they’re just bad. Sure, they have the basics of football down, and they have a lot of grit and drive whenever Sergio Ramos and Casemiro are playing, but neither man was on the pitch in Ukraine and it really showed.

So, without their mental mammoths, Madrid were left to rely on their technical and tactical prowess and sad to say but that is just not there. The players have skill but they can’t execute it in imaginative ways that would hurt their opponents. They look old and unfit, which to be fair they are. The midfield is crying out for young blood (like Federico Valverde) and the attack is bad enough even with a misfiring Eden Hazard; without him it’s hysterically poor.

Real Madrid are just not very good.

2. Manor from heaven

Manor Solomon was sensational as Shakhtar Donetsk beat Real Madrid 2-3 in Spain, scoring what ended up being the winning goal, but tonight he didn’t get the start and had to watch from the bench. Then he watched Dentinho come on and score, and so when he was given his own chance, he knew he had to make something happen.

And so he did, surging forward on the counter-attack and finding space enough to shoot from the edge of the Madrid box. Most of the Shakhtar play had been bold but not decisive enough in the final third, but there was none of that from Solomon who blasted the ball hard and low into the near-post, past Courtois before he could get across to make the save.

0-2 and this goal was every bit a game-winner as his goal from Madrid, because now Shakhtar had breathing room to survive the Madrid assault. Defending just a one goal lead, you could have seen them crack, but with that cushion they coasted to the win.

3. Varane needs help

Raphael Varane is one of the greatest defenders in the world.

Raphael Varane is a car-crash of a defender.

Both of those statements are true, it just depends on who is playing next to the Frenchman. When it’s someone mentally resilient and possessing a powerful personality and leadership skills (e.g. Sergio Ramos, Samuel Umtiti or Presnel Kimpembe) Varane excels.

But when the defender is someone who needs Varane to take the lead, like Eder Militao or Nacho, Varane suddenly loses all the imperious solidity that he normally exudes and turns into a calamitous buffoon. Suddenly he’s making mistakes all over the place. Consider Madrid’s Champions League elimination to Manchester City last season, where he was at fault for both City goals in the second leg.

And then tonight, where he was lucky to avoid an early red card, and turned his back on play – allowing the ball to bobble behind him and Dentinho to give Shakhtar the lead. It was just another miserable display from the French defender and he will be praying for Ramos’ return.

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4. Shakhtar play big games perfectly

Shakhtar may have been smashed 10-0 over two games against Borussia Monchengladbach, but when they’ve had to play the giants Real Madrid and Inter Milan, they’ve looked far more comfortable.

Shakhtar were so well-organised, spaced out splendidly at the back, all making covering runs and preventing Madrid from overlapping them. Pushing and pressing in midfield so that Los Blancos couldn’t get anything going. And of course blocking off as many passing lanes and denying Karim Benzema any sort of consistent supply.

Then on the break they move with such pace and clarity. Players with great skill and intelligence moving into spaces and always passing the ball to escape the Madrid defenders, rather than trying to outfox them with dribbles. It was such a cohesive gameplan that you wouldn’t be surprised if they managed to beat Inter on matchday six.

5. Los Blancos on the brink

Real Madrid’s Champions League future is not in their own hands. Zinedine Zidane, who won his first three seasons managing in this competition, looks like he might well cause Real Madrid’s first-ever group stage elimination.

Los Blancos have been miserable in the group so far, with their only two wins coming against the abject Inter Milan. They are level on points with Shakhtar, with the Ukrainians holding a head-to-head advantage.

For Madrid to qualify, they need to better Shakhtar’s result on matchday six. The Ukrainian side head to Milan while Madrid will host Gladbach, the group’s best side by some distance. Now there’s every chance that Inter could get their act together well enough to beat Shakhtar, but the bigger question is whether or not Madrid will have enough to beat Gladbach?

Because on the evidence we saw tonight, the answer is a resounding no. Zinedine Zidane has stagnated, and even his David Moyes impression with copious crosses isn’t working anymore. And when Zidane’s side can’t cross, they can’t really break opponents down. So Gladbach become a furious test.

Real Madrid in the Europa League? Don’t bet against it!