Real Madrid continued to improve on Sunday night of match-day 12 in Vigo as they blew away Celta Vigo, costing their coach Antonio Mohamed his job and applying the pressure on Barcelona after they slipped up at home to Real Betis. Karim Benzema terrified the Galicians with his involvement in the two opening goals either side of half-time before Hugo Mallo pulled one back on the hour mark. Sergio Ramos’ cheeky Panenka penalty put the game to bed and Dani Ceballos put the icing on the cake in injury time, even if Brais Mendez reduced the deficit to two goals again in the final moments of the 4-2 win. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid can take from the game as they continued to find their form.
The results crisis may be over, the injury crisis just gets worse
Just as there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel for Real Madrid, injuries struck. Santiago Solari appears to have turned things around on the pitch but that could soon be brought to an end after a freak wave of injuries continued to surge through the squad with at least three more additions in poor conditions in Vigo. Amidst the wind and rain, Nacho, Casemiro and Sergio Reguilon have all joined what was already a long injury list.
Reguilon was again one of the star performers for his team despite his stark lack of first-team experience but failed to make the second half after taking a knock, whilst Nacho’s knee ligament damage could keep him up for as much as two months and Casemiro’s ankle problem is also expected to sideline him for around three weeks.
The introduction of Javi Sanchez in defence reflected what could be the short-term future as the only other defender fit, given the existing conditions with Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Marcelo. Nacho’s knock made life even more difficult though with Lucas Vazquez being deployed at left-back. For a club of such wealth, riches and transfer market power, it is unforgivable to have such a distinct lack of cover all the way across the back-line.
Luka Modric is on his way back
Contributing only his third assist of the campaign and his first since September, Luka Modric returned to be decisive in Vigo. Having looked tired and worn out as age catches up with him after an intense World Cup campaign, the Croatian has had a slow start to the season but now looks to be getting firing once again. For Solari, having The Best winner and Balon d’Or candidate at the top of his game could be the difference between a fight for Champions League qualification and a fight for the title.
On Sunday evening, he made more through balls than in any other game this season and made his third highest number of forward passes this campaign. Developing his game and looking to unlock opposition defences is what Modric does best and he is clearly focusing on that now with a renewed sense of energy and confidence following the departure of Julen Lopetegui.
Given more freedom under Solari, he has preferred to drift around the right-hand side and not necessarily get as far forward himself, rather sitting deep and fielding passes. That approach is exactly what led to the opening goal from Karim Benzema as Modric chipped a stunning pass over the Celta Vigo defence and right into the French forward’s path. That is the Modric that Real Madrid have desperately missed.
Lucas Vazquez is doing something right… But what?
To continually be starting and featuring in games under Zinedine Zidane, Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari means that Lucas Vazquez is doing something right. It would be foolish to write off his contribution too as he’s a real team player who adds value to his side. But even he would be hard pushed to argue that, based on his most recent performances, he is deserving of a guaranteed spot in the side as he has experienced.
Playing on the right flank of a 4-3-3, in place of Marco Asensio, he showed exactly why he is not ideal for the role in such a system. Rather than bombing down the wing and looking to exploit space, then sometimes cut inside, he too often tempers his run and drifts inside. That leaves huge spaces for Alvaro Odriozola to exploit on the overlap but making that dash every time leaves Real Madrid exposed defensively whilst Vazquez is instead congesting the middle of the park.
Not since January 2018 has Vazquez made fewer touches in the opposition’s box when starting a game in the right-wing role than his one touch in Vigo, and it’s clear that he did not offer the kind of offensive threat that was expected. There can be little to no doubting of his versatility and contribution in other regards, such as his defensive tracking-back, but he is not the man that Los Blancos need when looking to break down stubborn defences.
Karim Benzema is this team’s goal-getter, not Gareth Bale
As Gareth Bale pondered through another 90 minutes with little impact and barely looking fit, Karim Benzema stole the show with one wonderful run leading to the opening goal and then doing all the work in order to force an own goal, which was only just not counted as his own, from Gustavo Cabral. Nights like this one reflect just how it is Benzema who has stepped up in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, rather than the Welshman.
The second goal reflected just how Benzema has stepped his game up. At no point has he ever stopped his high press and determination, as fans will remember well from last season’s Champions League final stages, but he then had the confidence and self-belief to battle through defenders, gambling that he could take them on, rather than rushing into a shot anxiously or looking to desperately get rid of the ball and lay it off to Alvaro Odriozola.
MARCA have already claimed that his numbers are better than Cristiano Ronaldo’s last season, perhaps a desperate fling at justifying his role in the squad and the exit of the Portuguese superstar, but he is certainly the new main man in attack. If he can maintain his current form and find consistency, he could go some way to providing almost as many goals.
This was a night of progress for Real Madrid. There is still work to do, but this result really builds up steam and momentum for Solari’s squad. The nightmares of the Clasico and Levante now look to be far behind them.