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Karim Benzema’s penalty wasn’t enough to prevent Real Madrid suffering an embarrassing Champions League upset on Tuesday as minnows FC Sheriff Tiraspol won 2-1 at the Bernabeu.
Madrid had the better first half chances — Vinicius Jr. had a shot blocked, Benzema’s free kick was tipped wide by goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis and Fede Valverde fired off target — before Sheriff took the lead with 25 minutes played. Forward Jasurbek Yakhshiboev was left unmarked to head Cristiano’s cross past Thibaut Courtois. Then Miguel Gutierrez, Vinicius Jr., Eden Hazard, Benzema and Casemiro all went close as Madrid pushed for an equaliser.
After half-time, Hazard tested Athanasiadis with a low shot before Vinicius Jr. won a penalty which Benzema converted. Sheriff’s Bruno had a goal ruled out for offside and Madrid substitutes Rodrygo Goes and Luka Jovic both missed great opportunities before Sebastien Thill scored a dramatic late winner with a thunderous shot from outside the box into the top corner.
Sheriff weren’t the most glamorous opponents but, make no mistake, this was a big game for Real Madrid: the first Champions League match at the Bernabeu since February 2020. The club’s identity is so tied up in Champions League success that the return of Europe’s premier club competition to this stadium after over 18 months of behind-closed-doors games at Valdebebas felt like a big occasion, regardless of the outcome on the pitch.
This was also a night made for Hazard to show that he’s finally on the way back to being the player he once was: a home game against beatable opposition, playing off Benzema, with freedom to roam and space to operate in. In fairness, he was Madrid’s best, most proactive player until he was taken off; he just didn’t get the goal his performance deserved.
Real Madrid have suffered several Champions League group-stage mishaps in recent years — draws or defeats in meetings with Shakhtar Donetsk, Club Brugge, CSKA Moscow and Legia Warsaw come to mind — and this was the latest, and perhaps biggest, shock to add to that long list. Of course, most haven’t ultimately mattered, because Madrid have never failed to qualify from the group stage.
The Madrid defence will again come under the spotlight here, after they conceded twice far too easily. For the first goal, Sheriff left-back Cristiano had all the time in the world to cross, and Yakhshiboev couldn’t believe the space he had to head confidently past Courtois. It was a goal that echoed around Europe, as did Thill’s spectacular winner. Not a good look for Carlo Ancelotti’s team.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Ancelotti made three changes from the side that drew 0-0 with Villarreal at the weekend, with Gutierrez coming in at left-back, Camavinga replacing Luka Modric in midfield and Hazard behind Benzema. The first half saw the team create plenty of chances but they were punished by another defensive mistake.
The coach made a decisive quadruple change — planned at 1-0 down but executed just after Benzema levelled — taking off both full-backs and introducing Modric, Toni Kroos, Rodrygo and Jovic. It looked to have worked before another lapse saw them concede again.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 5 — Well beaten for both goals. A poor attempted clearance almost gifted Sheriff another in the first half.
DF Nacho, 7 — Switched position yet again, this time from left to right-back. Could have scored in the first half when his close-range header flew wide. Got forward well at full-back but does get caught out in defence.
DF David Alaba, 5 — His set piece delivery is useful, with decent free kick deliveries here in both halves. Will have been very disappointed with the space Yakhshiboev was afforded to head Sheriff into the lead.
DF Eder Militao, 6 — Put a second-half header wide and could have scored with a shot later on as Madrid pushed for the winner.
DF Miguel Gutierrez, 5 — Blasted a first-half shot over the bar. Still a raw talent and looks better going forward than in defence. Caught out of position for the Sheriff goal.
MF Casemiro, 6 — Looked frustrated at times in the first half and picked up a yellow card. Taken off as Madrid looked to attack.
MF Fede Valverde, 7 — Restored to a more familiar midfield role after an ill-advised full-back experiment at the weekend. Looks increasingly comfortable on the right-hand side. In the short-to-medium term, that should be his position.
MF Eduardo Camavinga, 6 — Looked unfazed by making his first Champions League start for Real Madrid (unsurprisingly, given that he was starting in this competition for Rennes a year ago) but didn’t excel either. One lovely first-half touch to beat a defender inside the box but that was it.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 — Probably Madrid’s liveliest player. One good early pass found Valverde in space; he combined really well with Benzema, and tested keeper Athanasiadis either side of half-time.
FW Vinicius Junior, 7 — Didn’t quite get his first-half decisions right, taking too long over an early shot and later floating an effort harmlessly wide. Much better in the second half, winning the penalty that saw Madrid level and then having a shot saved.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 — Had a free kick saved and curled a shot wide later in the first half. His second-half penalty saw him move ahead of Raul on 72 goals to become the fourth all-time top scorer in this competition behind Lewandowski, Messi and Ronaldo.
MF Luka Modric, 7 — Could have scored, but his shot was stopped by Athanasiadis’ head.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 — His first minutes this season, back from a troublesome groin injury that left him playing through pain last year.
FW Rodrygo, 7 — Involved in one nice move down the right that just lacked a final ball, but really should have buried his chance.
FW Luka Jovic, 6 — His touch let him down when trying to bring the ball down in front of goal not long after coming on.