This season’s start to the LaLiga for Julen Lopetegui and Real Madrid was much better compared to the disastrous start last season until the European Champions faced a humiliating defeat to Sevilla, away from home; and the plunge in form had just begun.
After Sevilla, Real drew against their neighbours in the Madrid derby, recorded their first loss in this season’s Champions League to a young CSKA Moskova, in Russia and faced another loss in the domestic league against a dynamic Deportivo Alaves.
This international break could not be better timed for the coach and players to revamp and restructure for another long run of club football and aiming to end the goal drought and the winless streak. In this analysis, let’s look at some points that could bring back an enhanced Real Madrid post the break.
1) Defence during corners and counter-attacks
Lopetegui’s football includes sacrificing more players up front. A slight tactical change made by the coach is to leave out Casemiro from the mix inside the six-yard box or anywhere near it. Casemiro, who is muscular and known for his shrewd play, takes up the centre-back position, who stays behind during the corner for defensive duties since Ramos and Varane both are extremely lethal aerially.
Unfortunately, this denies a threat to the opposition during the corners. Teams like Athletico Madrid play with their physical strength during set-pieces. Leaving out Casemiro has not only reduced a threat, but also presents an opportunity for opponents to counter-attack, thus leaving Casemiro out of his natural central-defensive position and completely offering that place to create a dangerous play right outside the penalty box. Possible options to replace Casemiro at this position are Odriozola or Lucas Vazquez since both players are much faster than Casemiro and can easily link-up with any player to subside the level of threat.
2) Crosses and long shots
The crosses delivered by the players on either side of the pitch have not been top-notch. Cross-balls and long shots were a priority even in training, under Zinedine Zidane. He stressed the importance of not only creating a play between the lines but also to attempt scoring from a certain distance from the goal whenever an opportunity presents itself.
As seen in the image, last season’s shot accuracy average per game was almost 52% whereas this season, shot accuracy average per game has fallen to 40%. It would be untrue to say that Real Madrid are not causing harm with cross-balls inside the six-yard box, but they do lack the required precision and an understanding between the players sending and receiving the ball. These crosses either end up in an entire green space or between a large number of opposition players, ready to kick it out of play or to begin a counter-attack.
3) Offence and defence structure
A team’s structure totally depends on the formation they play. For example, Sevilla maintained a well-disciplined structure against Real Madrid, defensively. Sevilla used a 3-5-2 formation which put a lot of pressure at the wings for Real Madrid while Sevilla’s strikers forced Real Madrid defenders to pass the ball thus denying them more time to create a play with the midfielders in the final third.
Switching between two formations can be very tricky, especially when opposition teams lay back and wait for attack as much as they can, until the attacking team makes a mistake. In the recent games, it is clearly noticeable that, Real Madrid not only sacrifice their full-backs for attacks, but also gives liberty to the centre-backs to move ahead in the occurrence of acres of unmarked spaces. This lowers the defensive guard. Teams that lay back wait for such an opportunity and capitalize using it. If the centre-backs are tempted to move forward, it’s the responsibility of other players to make sure that, that space unmanned is taken care of.
Isco and Marcelo, two of Real Madrid’s most creative players were sidelined in the due to injuries along with Gareth Bale. However, Isco and Bale have returned to the squad fully recovered and after getting sufficient rest by missing their international duties. Isco’s freedom to move around the field freely gives the opponents a tough time to keep a trail on him whereas Bale, who provides speed and intensity on either side, switches positions with Asensio regularly, which raises concerns in the opponents’ defence. Their return to the team will surely boost the team’s confidence while they aim to give life in the attack and put an end to the negative streak records.
Humiliating defeats and injury spells have affected a decent start to the Los Blancos’ 2018/19 season. This has surely affected the team’s mentality and confidence. The international break came up at the right time giving certain players a certain amount of rest that they required. A fresh start is always a good start if everything begins positively.
With the ‘El Classico’ coming up with less than 10 days’ time, a couple of wins before the big match would surely help the players to get back on track and would be extra motivated to take the lead against their biggest rivals in this season’s first Classico.