Canny player selections underpinned Real Madrid CF's first derby win of the season, with UEFA.com's Joe Walker detailing how Carlo Ancelotti reshuffled his pack on Tuesday.
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When Javier Hernández struck in the 88th minute on Wednesday he did not just book Real Madrid CF's fifth consecutive appearance in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals – he also helped European champions get a monkey off their back.
Since emerging victorious in Lisbon last May, the Merengues had faced Club Atlético de Madrid seven times, and had not managed a single win against their city rivals. An overall balance of three draws and four losses against Diego Simeone's outfit did not make good reading for Carlo Ancelotti, but the Italian was able to ensure that their eighth – and most important – meeting of the season went his way.
"It was difficult, as it always is against Atlético. They defend well, fought and have a lot of character," said the Madrid coach, who went into the tie having to cope with the absences of injured trio Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Luka Modrić, in addition to the suspended Marcelo. The 55-year-old turned a few heads with his selection of defender Sergio Ramos in the centre of midfield as he finally aimed to crack Atlético, but it was a gamble that paid off in the end.
"I spoke with Sergio [about playing in midfield] and he was convinced he could do a job there," the Italian said. "It was important to have him as he's dangerous in the air, has a lot of experience and brings a lot of power and quality to the side."
Rather than completely re-jigging his system, Ancelotti kept faith with his customary 4-3-3. Fábio Coentrão was handed a first start since the 4-3 defeat by FC Schalke 04 at left-back while James Rodríguez was pushed further forwards from his usual midfield berth to replace Bale in attack, with Hernández spearheading the forward line in Benzema's absence.
Initially it looked like Atleti might frustrate Madrid. The visitors perfectly illustrated why they had only conceded once in their last eight Champions League outings as they proved a tough nut to crack, with a combination of solid defending and some inspired goalkeeping from Jan Oblak helping the Rojiblancos take their quarter-final tie to the verge of extra-time. However, with just two minutes left on the clock, Hernández popped up in the right place at the right time following a Cristiano Ronaldo burst to break Atlético hearts once more, and his efforts were not lost on his manager.
"He played very well – he was up for it," Ancelotti said. "He's had a difficult campaign, not playing a lot, so he deserves the goal he has scored. It was an important one for us. He's never stopped working hard, even in the most difficult of moments, and it's a reward for him."