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Real Madrid got back to winning ways away from home as they put an end to their dreadful run of away form in domestic competitions. Gareth Bale’s early volley gifted Santiago Solari’s team a crucial 1-0 victory over minnows and bottom side Huesca to put Los Blancos back amongst the top four of La Liga. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid can take from the game as they secured a win at the Estadio El Alcoraz.
Bale is back… Right?
Three months, 11 games, 3.06 xG and plenty of criticism later, Gareth Bale returned to the scoresheet in La Liga with a rasping volley into the bottom corner of the net in just the eighth minute against Huesca. In fact, it was arguably one of the hardest chances he has had in all of that time, with his goal carrying an xG of just 0.06 with a dipping cross coming in at a narrow angle in a crowded penalty area. Yet the Welshman took it with aplomb.
Such clinical finishing is just what Solari has been after and it showed that Bale is slowly but surely regaining his confidence. He has not had more shots on target in a single game than the four that he managed on Saturday since facing Celta Vigo in May and appears to be getting back to the form that he had at the tail end of previous campaign where he scored six goals in just four games, including a Champions League final.
Completing more dribbles, winning more of his offensive duels and having more touches in the box than at any other time since November, the improvement was clear to see. Bale is on his way back and there could be no better news for Real Madrid to receive as they desperately look for someone to lead their attack.
A clean sheet on the road at last
For the first time since March in La Liga, Real Madrid have finally kept a clean sheet. It was through as much luck as judgement in reality, but it was one of the team’s strongest defensive displays of the campaign by far. Just two real chances were afforded to the hosts, through Xabier Etxeita and Gonzalo Melero, though both could easily have been converted early on in each half.
There is still cause for concern, with 1.21 xG for Huesca, who managed more than twice as many shots as Real Madrid with 11 compared to just five for the visitors. What told was in the quality of the opportunities, as Real Madrid put four of their opportunities on target, converting one, whilst Huesca managed to get just three on target.
Real Madrid continue to leave gaps in their defence, with Melero, in particular, capitalising on the same spaces left in and around Sergio Ramos that allowed Sergi Enrich to run riot for Eibar only two weeks ago. Defensively, this was not a perfect performance, but it was a clear improvement from a more disciplined backline which handled the threat of Huesca far better than it has handled the likes of Alaves and Eibar.
Ceballos is losing his chance
Recording his lowest pass completion rate of the season, Dani Ceballos was the first man to be hauled off for Real Madrid after just 58 minutes and given his ineffective performance, it’s clear to see why. At 87%, his passing was not quite atrocious, but it was the second lowest rate that he has managed since he joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2017 and is even more concerning as he completed just two passes in the final third. For an attacking, creative midfielder like him, that is a major worry.
With Isco pushing hard to regain a regular spot in the side and Federico Valverde getting more and more game time as a substitute, Ceballos should be concerned by his form. Even with Casemiro and Toni Kroos sidelined and Luka Modric being rested every so often, his place is under threat. Marcos Llorente already appears to have overtaken him in the pecking order and now the likes of Isco and Valverde could be next. After a bright start to the campaign as one of the first choice options in midfield, Ceballos cannot rest on his laurels.
Solari is clearly keen to give opportunities to the 22-year-old opportunities as he has started in all but one of Solari’s games in charge, with that exception being the dead rubber second leg against Melilla in the Copa del Rey. Ceballos cannot afford to merely go through the motions any longer and must return to being decisive for his team.
Real Madrid have started winning ugly
Not since March have Real Madrid won fewer of their defensive duels, winning just 9% of their 66 attempts to rob Huesca of the ball. Keeping in mind the quality of the opposition, that could be concerning. Yet, given the way in which Los Blancos have fallen to defeat so often over the past two seasons against similar sides on the road in tough conditions, as was the case against Eibar this season and, most notably, Girona last year, it is worthy of merit that Real Madrid saw out the win.
With strong winds blustering around Estadio El Alcoraz, it was far from easy conditions to play in and it was clear to see that it complicated matters, particularly in the second half. Suddenly the direct, longer passing style was gone and Real Madrid had their backs against the wall at times, withstanding long balls from La Liga’s bottom side. The defence did well, winning 45% of aerial duels, more or less on average.
It was clear that this performance was no masterpiece or work of art, but it was progress. Real Madrid have long been accused of lacking the grit and the substance to get results when the going gets tough, but against Huesca they achieved it. Perhaps even more significantly, at no point did Solari lose faith and go for a more solid midfield block as he has in recent weeks. He appears to be gaining trust in his players, and they are repaying it with determination on the pitch.
This was not an eye-catching win in nature for Real Madrid. But it was a significant one. If it signals the end of an era in which they have been continually and regularly humiliated by significantly weaker opposition away from home, then it could be a major turning point for Solari’s men. This kind of fighting spirit could be the foundation from which Real Madrid can rebuild their campaign.
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