The fans in the Bernabeu may have given in to the odd bout of impatient whistling, the home defence may have been exposed with worryingly familiar frequency and Ruud van Nistelrooy may have spurned a hatful of chances before notching the goal that proved to be the winner, but there was enough in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Werder Bremen in the Champions League on Tuesday night to suggest that Bernd Schuster’s post-Capello revolution is well underway.

Mindful of the Madridistas’ disdainful attitude towards the defensive tactics of his predecessor, Schuster arrived at the Bernabeu promising to create a team capable of a brand of fluid, attacking football more in keeping with the traditions of Puskas, Gento, Di Stefano and co.

The key difference against Bremen was one of shape. Whereas Capello favoured a 4-2-3-1 with Diarra and Emerson (who has now been shipped off to Milan) protecting the back four and van Nistelrooy ploughing a lone furrow up front, Schuster fielded a 4-1-3-2, with Fernando Gago the sole holding midfielder, Raul alongside van Nistelrooy up front, Wesley Schneijder and Gonzalo Higuain attacking from the flanks, and Guti setting the pace in the middle.

The tactical shift made for more cohesive use of the ball in the final third, with Schneijder, Guti and Higuain linking up well with Raul to provide chances for van Nistelrooy. Raul seems to relish being restored to the role of centre forward, and he turned in a tigrish, industrious performance illuminated by some wonderful touches.

Playing with no less than three attacking midfielders enabled Madrid to introduce all manner of different patterns to their play, and with Bremen’s central defenders and central midfielders preoccupied, there was plenty of room on the flanks for full-backs Sergio Ramos and the impressive Brazilian Marcelo to exploit.

Typically, Madrid were often caught short at the back, and with the impish, artful Diego prompting in midfield, Bremen went close on occasion. But then, that is the beauty of Madrid, as it is with Brazil. They exist to play attacking football, and when it clicks – as it did on occasion here – it is wonderful to behold.

And with Diarra, Gabriel Heinze, Royston Drenthe, Arjen Robben, Julio Baptista, Robinho and Javier Saviola also in the squad, this might just be the season that Madrid add another European Cup to the nine they have already won in such sparkling style.


It’s been a great year for long-range volleys, particularly those of a left-footed variety, but not such a great year for individual goals (with two obvious exceptions).

With an apology for an inevitable English football bias, I proudly present my goals of the season…

1. Matthew Taylor (for Portsmouth v Everton)
à Premiership

2. David Nugent (for Preston North End v Crystal Palace)
à FA Cup

3. Robin van Persie (for Arsenal v Charlton Athletic)
à Premiership

4. Paul Scholes (for Manchester United v Aston Villa)
à Premiership

5. Wayne Rooney (for Manchester United v Portsmouth)
à FA Cup

6. Francesco Totti (for Roma v Sampdoria)
Serie A

7. Lionel Messi (for Barcelona v Getafe)
à Copa del Rey

8. Diego (for Werder Bremen v Alemannia Aachen)
à Bundesliga

9. Christian Vieri (for Atalanta v Siena)
à Serie A

10. Thomas Hitzlsperger (for Stuttgart v Energie Cottbus)
à Bundesliga

Seething at an omission? Aghast at an inclusion? Let me know.