CSKA Moscow Shock Sergio Ramos-Less Real Madrid, Win 1-0 in Champions League

CSKA Moscow Shock Sergio Ramos-Less Real Madrid, Win 1-0 in Champions League
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 02: Nikita Chernov (C) and Rodrigo Becao of CSKA Moscow vie for a header with Casemiro (L) and Nacho (R) of Real Madrid during the Group G match of the UEFA Champions League between CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid at Luzhniki Stadium on October 2, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

MB Media/Getty Images

CSKA Moscow shocked UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid with a 1-0 win at home on Tuesday. Nikola Vlasic, on loan from Everton, scored the only goal early in the first half.  

Real travelled to Russia without Sergio Ramos and were undone by a poor back-pass from Toni Kroos, setting up the goal. Despite persistent pressure they failed to find an equaliser, with Igor Akinfeev making several key saves late. 

He was also sent off in controversial fashion, as the official let play continue for an additional eight minutes and the stopper protested too fiercely. 

Los Blancos have now failed to win their last three matches in all competitions.


Real’s Depth Issues Will Sink Champions League Bid

You can’t blame clubs for injuries or struggling to deal with the absence of key players, but the very best in the world always have a backup plan readyand Real appear to lack a Plan B this season.

Gareth Bale and Isco were out for this contest and the resulting lack of creativity in the attacking third was a huge problem. The same holds true for the midfield, where Luka Modric didn’t start and the side promptly struggled to get a grip on proceedings.

Perhaps the biggest loss was that of Sergio Ramos in defence. The Spain international was rested and Nacho moved into a central role in his place, with Sergio Reguilon coming into the team.

Barely a minute had gone by when CSKA took the lead, courtesy of a terrible pass from Toni Kroos. None of Real’s defenders looked great in the process, however, per sportswriter Dermot Corrigan:

With Marcelo sidelined and Dani Carvajal limping off just before half-time, the injury crisis in the Spanish capital has quickly become serious. And unlike other top clubs, Los Blancos don’t have the overall depth to deal with it.

Clubs like Juventus, Manchester City and Bayern Munich have much deeper squads at nearly every position and will have a significant edge on the defending champions late in the season, when fatigue leads to even more injuries.

The likes of Modric and Ramos aren’t getting any younger, which will only increase the team’s need for depth. It’s an area that has to be addressed in January before the knockout stages kick off.


Lopetegui Needs to Rethink Rotation Policy

Real Manager Julen Lopetegui has rotated freely early in the season, and while he deserves credit for trying to keep his players as fresh as possible―perhaps realising the likes of Ramos and Modric are no longer spring chickens―he needs to rethink how and when he sits his stars.

For starters, resting several key players in a crucial Champions League contest is a major risk, especially given the schedule for the foreseeable future. With Alaves and Levante on the horizon, he could just as easily waited a few days and let the backups shine on a smaller stage in Spain.

He also hasn’t played summer arrivals Mariano Diaz and Alvaro Odriozola all that much, robbing both of crucial opportunities to get acclimatised to the side. With Carvajal now picking up a knock, the latter may be forced into a starting role before he’s ready.

Fans were desperate to see Mariano get his chance on Tuesday:

He too could be in line for a bigger role with Bale and Isco sidelined and Lucas Vazquez disappointing in Moscow. But like Odriozola, he hasn’t had the opportunity to fully adapt to the side.

Rotating the side is a smart long-term strategy, but Lopetegui needs to be more careful in his approach. He seemed to realise his gamble backfired early against CSKA:

Perhaps this was a good learning experience for a manager who has limited experience with such busy playing schedules at club level.


Top Clubs Should Eye January Fernandes Move

CSKA full-back Mario Fernandes was a standout for Russia during the FIFA World Cup and backed up his strong play there with another good showing against Real. He found plenty of success on the overlap and didn’t give the young Reguilon a lot of time to line up his crosses. The 21-year-old got away several attempts, but few resulted in danger.

Corrigan was impressed and thought the Brazil-born defender would be a good fit for Real’s rivals Barcelona:

That may be aiming a little too high, but there are several big clubs around Europe who could use his services. Manchester United and Chelsea are two clubs who come to mind, and both shouldn’t be afraid to lodge a bid in January.

At 28 years of age, he’s right in his prime, so the time to make the move is now.


What’s Next?

Real visit Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. They have been among the early La Liga standouts and currently sit in sixth place in the standings, just three points behind Los Blancos.

CSKA will play host to local rivals Lokomotiv Moscow.

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