Los Blancos started the fixture having already secured qualification through to the knockout phase of European football’s premier competition. Mourinho’s men’s tally of 16 points from their six group games, including five wins and a solitary draw, mean Madrid totalled a better Champions League group return than any other side who has played in the competition since its introduction in 1999/2000.
Suspensions to Spanish World Cup winning duo Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso, injuries to key striker Gonzalo Higuain and midfielders Sami Khedira and Angel di Maria meant Madrid were far from full strength heading into their clash with the French outfit. Off the back of two difficult fixtures at Barcelona and home to Valencia where Madrid failed to produce the form reminiscent of much of Mourinho’s star studded squad this term, the victory under the Bernabeu lights was key for two reasons. Firstly, it allowed a quick fire chance for Madrid to get back to the fleet of foot attacking form which has swept aside most of La Liga this season and secondly so-called ‘squad members’ of Los Blanco’s’ roster could stake a claim for a regular first team place.
A superb hat trick from Frenchman Karim Benzema may well prove a pivotal moment for the ex-Lyon forward in his Madrid career, as the young striker has struggled since his Bernabeu baptism two summers ago. Benzema scored Real’s 300th goal in the Champions League, but few could criticize the way Mourinho’s XI played as a team and looked as confident as ever. The employment of home-grown talent like Esteban Granero, the man who made his name on loan at Getafe, added divine steel and intervention into a Madrid midfield boosted by the attacking wing play of another ex-downtown El Geta player, Pedro Leon – who added a will to run and carry the ball with aplomb in the match.
Mourinho’s employment of home-grown talent did not end there. The ex-Inter Coach gave Real Madrid Castilla forward Sarabia a substitute appearance late on and reserve goalkeeper Adan run outs in a move which could continue for Real Madrid as they contend with a bout of mid-season injury concerns. Real Zaragoza wait for Spain’s second-placed side this weekend as once again Los Merengues will be playing catch up to eternal foes Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo, who has found the back of the net in consecutive games, holds the key to Madrid’s fortunes at the moment, but others need to step up to the billing if the capital based outfit are to strengthen their Primera Division fortunes before the winter break.