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.


Cesc Fabregas - a season to remember?No real surprises in the list of nominees for this season’s PFA Player of the Year Award, although Michael Essien is unlucky to have missed out, and Cesc Fabregas hasn’t exactly been in scintillating form since the turn of the year (although his goal against Bolton at the weekend finally justified his continued inclusion in my fantasy football team).

My only gripe with the PFA Awards is that they are announced so early. This season the gongs will be handed out on April 22nd, before the destinations of the Premiership, FA Cup or Champions League have been decided. Suppose Didier Drogba scores a further ten goals to secure the Quadruple for Chelsea, but Cristiano Ronaldo has already received the award?

It’s happened before. In 1999 David Ginola won it, despite the contributions of players like David Beckham and Roy Keane in securing United the Treble. In 2002 Ruud van Nistelrooy got the nod, but it was Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry who plundered the silverware as they inspired Arsenal to Arsene Wenger’s second Double.

The big problem with the PFA Awards is that the players vote for them months before the end of the season. I think I’m right in saying that the votes are gathered around the turn of the year, which gives a massive advantage to players who start the season strongly (such as Fabregas) but fails to acknowledge the contribution of players such as Dimitar Berbatov who find their form in the second half of the season.

It’s also interesting that Wayne Rooney has once again been nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award – an award he’s won for the past two seasons – but has missed out on a nomination for the senior award. Ronaldo and Fabregas have both stepped up. Let’s hope Rooney uses their example to spur him on to greater things next season.