Real Madrid’s need for Kylian Mbappé on show against Leipzig

MADRID – If Kylian Mbappé's Champions League masterclass for Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday had Real Madrid fans dreaming of the future, Madrid's weak 1-1 draw against RB Leipzig a day later, narrowly managing to advance to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 aggregate score. — made them fall back to the ground.

This was a worryingly flat last-16 performance from Madrid, who offered little in attack and looked vulnerable in defence. A team with more quality and a cooler head than Leipzig (which had 20 shots compared to Madrid's 11) could have made them pay for it. A major improvement will be needed if Madrid are to challenge teams like Manchester City in this competition this season.

On the positive side, there are Judas Bellingham. This was his first Champions League knockout match for Madrid after missing the first leg in Germany, and he provided the moment of the match with an insightful pass for Vinícius Junior to open the bookmark. Six Champions League games with Madrid, and Bellingham has scored or assisted in each of them, for a total of four goals and four assists in Europe this season.

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The atmosphere before the game at the Santiago Bernabéu was calm. Madrid's 1-0 lead in the first leg on February 13 meant that a trademark epic comeback was not required this time; the team simply had to protect or extend that lead. That was reflected in a conservative team chosen by coach Carlo Ancelotti. Bellingham and Vinícius were united by federico valverde in a three-forward group, with Bellingham operating in the middle, ahead of Aurélien Tchouaméni, Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga in the midfield.

It didn't work. Madrid struggled to create chances in the first half and the best chances of the game fell to the visitors. Goalie Andriy Lunin well saved from Xavi Simonbefore Lois Openda He had a good opportunity that went wide. Long before half-time, expectant whistles were heard from the Bernabéu crowd, demanding more from their team. Bellingham's position as a “false nine” was limiting the team's attacking threat, with no shots on goal in the first half. A change at half-time saw Rodrygo replace Camavinga and join Bellingham and Vinicius in attack.

There was more danger from Leipzig at the start of the second half, with Lunin recovering well to claim the ball from Openda after coming off his line, while Vinicius was lucky to only receive a yellow card for a push from the defender without the ball . Willi Orban. Still, Bellingham could have given Madrid the lead after an hour. His shot looked destined for the bottom corner before Rodrygo inadvertently blocked it. Three minutes later, when Madrid was improving, Rodrygo had a shot that was stopped by the goalkeeper Peter Gulácsi.

Bellingham's invention was a breakthrough. Released by Kroos in the 65th minute, the English midfielder stepped forward, delaying his pass until the last moment to find Vinicius, who slotted into the goal. The Brazilian finished with his first touch. In the celebrations he singled out Bellingham, urging the crowd to recognize his contribution in scoring the goal.

That should have been it, but four minutes later, Leipzig equalized, with Orban beating Nacho Fernandez with David Raum's cross to beat Lunin. That meant a very nervous last 20 minutes, in which Madrid defended a one-goal lead in the tie. Dani Olmo He even hit the crossbar in the 92nd minute, inches away from forcing extra time.

In the end, Madrid is in the quarterfinals and that is what matters. They have already put together disappointing overall displays to go all the way in this competition, as they did in 2022. But a look at the team's performances over the past two months reveals a worrying trend. Aside from their 4-0 rout of Girona in LaLiga on February 10, they haven't been playing well. There are now three draws in their last four games in all competitions, and their two victories since beating Girona have been by just one goal.

Bellingham's two-game national suspension, which would keep him out until March 31 unless an appeal is successful, won't help. Vinicius is scoring goals (this was his third in two games) but he needs support. Rodrygo, so important in the Champions League but benched against Leipzig, has scored one goal in the last two months. In LaLiga, Madrid's seven-point lead at the top of the table should be enough to get them over the line, but in the Champions League they will need more.

Mbappé could arrive this summer, but this Madrid team could use some of his magic sooner.

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