Sheriff's stunning win away to Real Madrid is the latest game to feature in our new 'In the Zone' series – UEFA's Technical Observer panel put the game under the microscope.
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UEFA's Technical Observer panel reviews the big upset of Matchday 2 as group stage newcomers Sheriff beat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Yuriy Vernydub's outsiders had already showed their formula of solid defensive organisation and swift counterattacking in defeating Shakhtar Donestk in their first Group D test a fortnight earlier. Few would have foreseen a repeat performance against Madrid yet the Moldovan champions achieved just that, Vernydub sending them out to defend resolutely while knowing their hosts would leave spaces to exploit on the counter.
0-1: Jasurbek Yakshiboev (25)
This was a well-worked team move, started by Danilo Arboleda, the right-sided centre-back, who carried the ball forwards and fed a vertical pass to Adama Traore just inside the Madrid half who in turn laid it off to Sébastien Thill. The Luxembourg international, instrumental in most Sheriff's forward play, showed his vision as he pinged a crossfield pass out to the left, where Cristiano was racing into space, one of seven times Thill supplied the left-back. Cue a cross to the far post which Yakshiboev met with a powerful header back across Thibaut Courtois. Excellent full-back play by Cristiano; less so Madrid's Nacho and Miguel Gutiérrez, who were both caught upfield.
1-1: Karim Benzema, penalty (65)
A spot kick converted with the confidence befitting a forward in brilliant form – a landmark goal too given it means he has now scored in 17 different UEFA Champions League campaigns. A word too for Vinícius Júnior who sought to create danger throughout with his pacy runs inside from the left and won the penalty in this way. Entering the box from the left, he attempted to weave a way between Edmund Addo and Fernando Costanza and went to ground after connecting with the Ghanaian's knee.
1-2: Sébastien Thill (90)
Thill wrote the headlines with his historic first UEFA Champions League goal – indeed the first in the group stage by any Luxembourger – but don't overlook the work of Traore, who chased down Eduardo Camavinga to force a throw-in deep in Madrid territory. When Fernando Costanza's long throw reached him in the box, he diverted it back out towards Thill who met it on the half-volley with a brilliantly precise left-foot shot that sent the ball arrowing high into the far corner.
The UEFA Champions League Player of the Match vote for this famous Sheriff victory went to their Greek goalkeeper, Giorgos Athanasiadis, a player on loan from AEK Athens in his homeland. On a night of 31 Madrid goal attempts and an xG count of 3.2, he made ten saves – including blocking one Luka Modrić shot with his face – and even guessed the right way for the penalty that beat him. Not bad for a 28-year-old making only his second appearance in the competition.
Madrid began the match at a good tempo, pressing high. In their 4-3-3 set-up Eden Hazard started on the right of the attack but moved inside, leaving the flank for either Fede Valverde or Nacho, while over on the left Vinícius Júnior was happier getting chalk on his boots. By the end of the first half Madrid had dominated possession (70%) and managed 13 shots yet trailed 1-0.
For this, Sheriff warranted credit. They were solid in their defensive positioning and sat in knowing they would see little of the ball yet equally conscious of the need to be efficient as possible when opportunity knocked. And they were certainly that, scoring twice from their four attempts and also having a goal disallowed.
Captain and midfielder Frank Castañeda embodied their attitude, catching the eye not only for his skill and movement but also his willingness to help out defensively. Ditto Dimitris Kolovos, in theory the man operating behind the centre-forward, who was as important for his defensive efforts as his technical ability as the visitors worked overtime.
Madrid started the night in a 4-3-3 formation but switched to 4-4-2 in the 66th minute – a change Carlo Ancelotti had already prepared when their equalising goal went in.
He sent on four players – Rodrygo (21), Luka Jović (16), Toni Kroos (8) and Modrić (10) – as off went both starting full-backs along with Casemiro and Hazard. It was an attacking approach which gave Madrid a second centre-forward in Jović as well as two wingers.
It also meant Valverde (15) and Camavinga (25), who had begun the match either side of Casemiro in a midfield three, dropped back into the full-back positions. The aim was clear.
Sheriff for their part set up in a narrow 4-2-3-1 in which the width came from full-backs Cristiano (15) and Fernando Costanza (13). Of their two holding midfielders Addo (21) sat deep while Thill (31) was more forward-looking.
Behind lone striker Jakhshibaev (17) were the trio of Castañeda (10), Kolovos (22) and Traore (9), though it was the full-backs who provided the width – with Cristiano the outstanding example.
Sound defensively, he not only crossed for the opening goal but also supplied the ball for a disallowed effort by substitute Bruno in the second half.
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach: "We played with intensity and were looking good. We lost because of small details, even though the side played well. We could have been better when it came to the final third but it's tough to explain. We had chances, we were creating out wide and Jović came on and had a couple of opportunities. I think that in the end, everything went well for them and badly for us."
Yuriy Vernydub, Sheriff coach: "Of course we knew that we were going to have to defend. We did that well and we countered really well too, and we able to score a winner right at the end."