Real Madrid’s latest outing proved to be their toughest test of the season since UEFA Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid as they drew with Athletic Club at San Mames in La Liga, failing to find a winner even after Isco equalised to cancel out Iker Muniain’s first half strike. This tactical analysis will look at the key statistics that show what cost Real Madrid in their unsuccessful quest to secure a fourth straight win this season.
Pinning back Real Madrid’s full-backs is the way to go
Athletic Club’s coach Eduardo Berrizzo’s game plan was clear and right from the off his team looked to press high and deny Real Madrid’s full-backs the chance to bomb down the flanks as they usually do. It was effective too, particularly in the first half, with Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams’ pace and threat on the counter denying either defender the opportunity to get forward.
There is no stronger proof than in the statistics that Marcelo did not make a single cross, whilst Dani Carvajal only managed to complete one. The two made a combined eight crosses last time out against Leganes, creating six chances in the process, but were unable to create any such opportunities in the Basque Country.
With the duo pinned back, Real Madrid were lacking any fluidity in attack and often looked devoid of ideas. As Athletic Club tired later on, They grew into the game more and more but it was simply too little, too late for Los Blancos.
Toni Kroos is not a Casemiro alternative
Having played 180 minutes and then travelled back from Brazil in time for La Liga action, Julen Lopetegui opted to rest holding midfielder Casemiro with one eye on Wednesday’s Champions League tie with AS Roma. Perhaps unexpectedly though, the former Spain boss ignored the more natural alternatives of Marcos Llorente and Fede Valverde, neither of whom made the matchday squad and opted for Toni Kroos in his place.
However, it was clear that Kroos is not made for the role. Whilst he did make more passes than anyone else at 44, completing 43 of them, only eight of those were forward in the opposition half, and whereas in his last three games he had provided nine assists to shots, yet his return on Saturday evening was nil. The below image reflects just how deeply he was positioned in his first-half display until Casemiro came on to replace Dani Ceballos. The more offensive-minded youngster failed to capitalise on a rare opportunity to start and was hauled off at the break.
Kroos’ defensive performance was also a concern, failing to even attempt a tackle, interception, clearance or block, with his only attempted contribution being one defensive aerial duel which he duly lost. An effective passer, he most certainly is, but a holding midfielder he is not. His failure to contribute will be a concern for Julen Lopetegui as he considers how to manage squad rotation.
Julen Lopetegui is brave but perhaps too brave?
Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui was left with no choice but to turn to his substitute’s bench with his team behind at San Mames. By making his first change at half-time, Lopetegui was clearly happy to admit to his mistake in his initial team selection, but his next moves were even braver.
First of all, on the hour mark, he took off Luka Modric, the player who appears to be the club and fanbase’s choice as a contender for The Best and the Ballon d’Or. Such a move shows his statement of intent that he is happy to make changes, regardless of a player’s status, and that was enhanced 15 minutes later as he took off Gareth Bale, only a matter of minutes after his right-footed cross set up Isco to equalise.
He may still have had some impressive attacking options on the field, including Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio, but taking off the star man is a brave call, particularly only minutes after an impressive assist and with the Welshman having looked lively throughout.
Despite all that, Mariano Diaz remained on the bench awaiting his debut since rejoining the club in the summer. Lopetegui clearly has the courage to make big calls, such as taking off the club’s two big names as substitutes as they search for a victory, but he may have been better off putting his faith in their quality to come good and find the winner that his team desperately needed.
Counter-attacking rivals are a weakness
Inaki Williams was a real threat for Berrizzo’s Athletic Club, primarily with his pace on the counter as the Basque side looked to bomb forward in waves every time that Real Madrid lost possession. The forward posed a dangerous option and one that Sergio Ramos struggled to contain with his age catching up with him and leaving Raphael Varane to do the leg work whilst the captain cleared up around him. There was no better example of this than in the build-up to the goal itself, as shown below.
On their last La Liga outing against Leganes, Real Madrid had full freedom to attack without much of a threat in return, but Athletic Club showed no such mercy. Playing on home turf, they were desperate to prove a point themselves and didn’t hold back as the likes of Williams and Muniain used their pace to burst forwards.
The biggest concern of all may have been Ramos’ struggles, but with Roma visiting in the Champions League in midweek, the Italians may well have been licking their lips at how Real Madrid struggled to handle the counter-attacking threat that was posed by the hosts.