By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 12, 2015) US Soccer Players – You have to feel for Schalke 04, regardless of your club allegiances. You don’t even have to be a soccer fan to understand the scenario. An overmatched team does well, ultimately loses, and the story becomes about the better team’s failings. Real Madrid advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals but lost their second-leg, and that’s always going to be the story.
For American sports, this is similar to when the favorite struggles to win a playoff series. The end result isn’t necessarily the result, with style points also counting. Of course, the team that advances is the only one that has an opportunity to rewrite their run. Win a championship, and it’s easy to forget what almost happened a few rounds earlier.
It’s not fair in both directions. Schalke played a competent second-leg in a series they were very unlikely to win. Success for Schalke was simply doing better than last season. There’s a lot of territory between flattering result and almost knocking out Real Madrid, and Schalke successfully covered it. They also didn’t win, something that downplays what Real Madrid did when facing an upstart challenger that perhaps they underestimated.
“I’m very sorry. As everyone saw, we played very badly, it isn’t good for our image and that of our club. I’m very sorry,” Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “The whistles were totally deserved. This is going to motivate us for the games to come. I still have complete faith in this team and in the squad. I know what it’s capable of producing. Right now it isn’t. We have to work harder and focus more. We all know that we played badly. We have no problem saying so. It’s the truth. We want to do better. Nobody likes moments and games like these.”
Anybody interested in a team not called Real Madrid would disagree with that last statement, but we get the point. Ancelotti has no problem determining accountability. It’s part of his job, even when the critique lands on something as basic as organization.
Coaches at this level normally don’t get a lot of credit for something like correctly staging a basic defense. That’s especially true when they have Real Madrid level options. All that does is add weight to Ancelotti’s words. He knows exactly what he’s saying and what it should mean. Real Madrid can manage this result because, and again it’s that obvious but important point, they got the result.
This isn’t some train wreck careening down the pass and barely managing to stay on the track. It’s one of the world’s best club teams having a tough run of games. It’s still the Real Madrid story, regardless of how they happen to be playing on the night. That’s not fair to the opposition, turning them into as much a plot device as a separate team with their own interests and ambitions.
What’s there to say if you’re Schalke coach Roberto Di Matteo? That you would’ve preferred to win the game and the series? That nobody wants to be the club that almost did anything? That it’s a series and not two distinct games?
Any way he goes, it’s that same basic problem. Where we end up flatters Schalke 04, but that’s about it. There’s no template for how to beat Real Madrid that a better team can use later on. Schalke didn’t unravel what Real Madrid does best because they weren’t playing Real Madrid at their best. For Schalke, that’s decidedly unfair.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson: