Following last week’s draw with Athletic Club and the midweek win over Roma in the Champions League, Julen Lopetegui decided that it was time to mix things up as Real Madrid faced Espanyol, making five changes to the team that beat the Italians. It paid off too, with a narrow 1-0 win over Espanyol maintaining Los Blancos’ 100% record at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu this season. This tactical analysis will look at how statistics can explain the key points from Real Madrid’s La Liga victory over Espanyol.
Real Madrid had Marco Asensio to thank for the three points, and VAR, as Mateu Lahoz consulted the video referee to award the hosts their opening goal, which proved to be the winner, having initially ruled it out for offside.
Alvaro Odriozola is Real Madrid’s big positive
Having joined from Real Sociedad in the summer, the 45 million euro addition has spent a long time waiting for his Real Madrid debut. With Dani Carvajal rested, alongside the likes of Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale and Marcelo, Alvaro Odriozola was the star who justified his place in the starting line-up and will be making his rival team-mate sweat on the training ground.
The 22-year-old bombed forward with a series of well-timed runs exploiting Espanyol’s deep back line, then putting the ball into the box, completing three of his eight attempted crosses, setting up one shot. With such energy and pace down the flank, the right hand side became a key aspect of Real Madrid’s attacking play, completing 87% of his forward passes.
Carvajal is considered a staple in Real Madrid’s first choice line-up by the vast majority, but Alvaro Odriozola may well have put that under threat. A bright and positive start, Odriozola’s debut was simple but exciting, bringing the ball out from deep and providing an option which will finally provide high quality cover and a rotation option for his team-mate at both club and country level.
Sergio Ramos is a loose cannon who has to be reigned in
It’s not secret that at times, Sergio Ramos takes games into his own hands. On Saturday though, his tactical ill discipline was more present than ever, leading to criticism in some sectors as he continually risked his team’s narrow lead. At just 1-0, the central defender continually found himself in the opposition penalty area, often just bursting forward from deep with no motivation other than personal glory. After set pieces too, Ramos was slow to get back, instead hanging around in the final third in the hope that something would fall his way.
In certain games and in certain situations, that wouldn’t be a problem. At 1-0 up with the clock ticking down against a side who have had a terrific start to the season, it is not the right moment. Whether Julen Lopetegui will be the one to insist on that message or not remains to be seen, but with a player of his stature, Ramos may well be right in his belief that he can do whatever he likes on the football pitch.
Fortunately for the captain, he has the more mobile and quicker Raphael Varane alongside him in defence, and, in Casemiro, he has a holding midfielder who is content to drop deep and cover him. How long their patience lasts could well be put to the test, particularly if one of his wayward rampant runs forward results in a goal for the opposition in a big game. With some big fixtures against the likes of Sevilla and Atletico Madrid coming up, there’s a very clear risk of that being the case.
Karim Benzema’s transformation isn’t complete yet
With Gareth Bale on the bench, this was Karim Benzema‘s big chance to establish himself as Real Madrid’s leader in attack. Yet, he failed to take it. The Frenchman was frustrated by his display against Athletic Club last weekend and didn’t enjoy the best of evenings against Roma in midweek at a personal level, being substituted for the first time this season, with Saturday only further compounding the fact that life in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era won’t always be plain sailing.
What is perhaps most concerning is that Benzema was not getting into the right situations. His xG was just 0.01 and it came primarily from his off the ball movement, where he often seemed to be off the pace. Too often, Benzema was reactive rather than proactive, making late dashes into the box and not arriving in the right place at the right time, instead being left deeper in a crowd of Espanyol defenders, as is the case below just before the break.
On the hour mark, he was replaced by a much more spritely Mariano Diaz, who was still clearly brimming with confidence following his goal on his second debut against Roma in midweek. However, he too fluffed his lines when the ball fell his way just short a few minutes after his introduction. Without Cristiano Ronaldo, there’s still a big weight on Gareth Bale’s shoulders, and one injury could jeopardise Real Madrid’s entire season.
Thibaut Courtois finally gets a clean sheet
In the ongoing battle of the goalkeepers, Keylor Navas returned for Champions League action but it was Thibaut Courtois who started his fifth consecutive La Liga fixture by retaining the number one shirt to face Espanyol at the Bernabeu. Yet, it was only on the fifth occasion that the Belgian finally recorded his first clean sheet in Real Madrid colours.
He was perhaps fortunate to do so too, given quite how close he was to conceding when Borja Iglesias chipped the ball over his head and onto the crossbar just after the hour mark. To concede would have been harsh on the summer arrival, given that the move came to fruition from a woeful error from Sergio Ramos, but the shot-stopper barely covered himself in glory either.
Facing an xG for Espanyol of just 0.91, Courtois did his job well, making three saves in total, without facing any real challenges to his clean sheet. This was his most comfortable game to date and the former Chelsea man is clearly growing in confidence between the sticks. Keylor Navas has done little wrong in his appearances this season, but it’s clear that Lopetegui has chosen Courtois as his number one.