Real Madrid were looking to build on the positives having faltered to a draw against Athletic Club and then scraped a narrow home win over Espanyol in their last two outings. Luka Modric’s victory in The Best looked to be the perfect preparation for a midweek trip to Sevilla, but the reality was anything but ideal as Julen Lopetegui was outsmarted and roundly beaten by Pablo Machin’s side in a first half rout. The result was not one that many saw coming, but Sevilla’s excellence was matched equally by Real Madrid’s mediocrity. Here, our tactical analysis will look at statistics which identify where the visitors went wrong in their latest La Liga fixture.
Real Madrid’s vulnerability on the counter-attack a major concern
At San Mames, some accused them of a lack of fight, but in Andalusia Los Blancos were simply woeful in defence, looking lacklustre not only in terms of effort but also in terms of organisation. Time and time again, Sevilla broke forward rapidly on the counter, particularly down Real Madrid’s left flank with Marcelo unable to keep up with Jesus Navas, as was the case for the first goal.
Raphael Varane was the only man in the back four able to keep up with the pace but couldn’t stop Sevilla on his own. Once Machin and his players detected the weakness, they kept on exploiting it and by the time Lopetegui addressed the issue, his team were already three goals down and the game was all but over.
Lopetegui alternated between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 as he looked to get a reaction from his team but it did not add any further defensive stability, if anything only making his team more vulnerable on the break with the full-backs deployed in more advanced roles than they had been from the off.
Marcelo is a liability
At fault in all three goals, not even his biggest fans can put up much of a case to defend Brazilian left-back Marcelo. In the first, his ponderous walking attitude allowed Jesus Navas to create a huge advantage on the counter, whilst his attempted interception for the second goal was amateurish at best and he then failed to track back and his throwing himself into the air in desperation to win a header to prevent the third was not much better.
What’s more, he registered his lowest pass completion ratio of the season and has not completed fewer recoveries when starting a match since records began in 2015. Defensively, the 30-year-old has never looked as vulnerable as was the case on Wednesday evening and Sevilla constantly looked to him as the weak point, rather than makeshift full-back Nacho on the right.
His inconsistency is becoming an increasing concern for Real Madrid with no real alternative available after he came off with a calf injury which could force him out for upcoming fixtures. What makes the situation worse is that Nacho, who took his place when he was rested against Espanyol, may be forced to play on the right again against Atletico Madrid if Alvaro Odriozola is unable to recover to replace the injured Dani Carvajal.
Gareth Bale escapes criticism
Only one man has escaped the wrath of the fans and media in the immediate aftermath of the debacle, and that man is Gareth Bale. One of few bright sparks, he never stopped running and his enthusiasm and determination was well received by many spectators who grew increasingly frustrated with his team-mates and their lack of effort.
The forward had his highest xG of the season and enjoyed the highest success rate with his actions since the win over Leganes at the start of the month. In fact, you have to go back to February to find a time when Bale had a higher pass completion ratio whilst starting a game than the 94% that he achieved at the Pizjuan and there have only been four times where he has had more touches in the box in 2018.
Yet, it would be fully justified to ask questions of the Welshman. With an xG of 0.79, many would say that he should have scored, particularly with the above opportunity on the hour mark when he broke forward on the counter but could not add the finishing touch when it was most needed even when the tie looked to be dead and buried.
The worst possible timing
Perhaps most concerning of all is the run of fixtures that Real Madrid have ahead of them. This midweek trip to Seville was just the beginning of a tough fixture list which sees a Madrid derby next up on Saturday as they look for revenge over Atletico Madrid after their UEFA Super Cup defeat to their city rivals in August. An immediate reaction is needed, but few teams are harder to beat.
After that, it doesn’t get any easier with a Champions League trip to Moscow to face CSKA Moscow in difficult conditions with a long journey in both directions, which is bound to take any remaining energy out of legs that are already beginning to look jaded.
Next up are two fixtures which may look easy on paper, against Alaves and Levante, but are both against two of the surprise outfits of the season in La Liga as they have maintained incredibly impressive form from the end of 2017/18 and could pose a real challenge if Lopetegui is forced to rotate or takes anything for granted. Then, after another Champions League fixture against Viktoria Plzen, it’s time for a potentially decisive title clash with Barcelona at the Camp Nou. A poor run of form cannot be afforded through this spell.