Osasuna vs Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis

A key game and one, which according to the prevailing wisdom, was a potential banana skin for Real Madrid and their hopes of regaining the La Liga title. Osasuna came into the game on the back of 3 wins and 3 draws in their last 6 games, a run of form which has saw them move into 6th position whilst Madrid have sneaked victories away at Rayo and Betis before being held at Villarreal in their last 3 away games. This was the game were Madrid would crack again, drop more points and allow Barcelona to move that little bit closer.

Instead, it was a game which Madrid won comfortably and with some ease, only really coming under a period of pressure for 20 minutes early in the second half.

Line Ups

Both sides adopted the familiar 4-2-3-1 which is prevalent in La Liga.


The inclusion of Damia at left back with the attack minded Roversio at right back was perhaps surprising and it was a move which, whilst indicated the attacking intent of Mendilibar, was ultimately one which would not pay dividends.

Madrid made four changes from Wednesday night’s game away at Apoel. Albiol, Marcelo, Alonso and Granero all came back into the side.

1st Half

Under Mendilibar, Osasuna play an aggressive pressing game with direct passing and a high line. Yet it was Madrid who closed down Osasuna early on and imposed themselves on the game.

A key moment of the game arrived in the 3rd minute. Roversio was caught upfield when an Osasuna move broke down. He was too far ahead of the ball and Ronaldo exploited the space vacated drawing Sergio out of his comfort zone in the central defensive position. The resulting foul delivered a caution for Sergio limiting his ability to adopt a physical approach for the remainder of the match.

The warning was not heeded by Osasuna as Roversio was frequently caught out of position in the 1st half to such an extent that it seems likely he was encouraged to get forward and attack Marcelo. It seems possible that Mendilibar wanted Roversio and Cejudo to create 2 on1’s against Marcelo given that Ronaldo seldom tracks back and offers any defensive cover.

In the 7th minute the opening goal for Madrid arrived. Ronaldo attacked Roversio who gave him far too much space with Punal, directly behind Roversio, offering nothing. Ronaldo’s cross was met spectacularly by Benzema on the volley.

Osasuna gradually settled into the game and despite, somewhat surprisingly given their style, having more possession than Madrid by the latter stages of the 1st half, their main opportunities were via set pieces. They seldom had any men in their opponent’s penalty area.

Nino was drifting to the left leaving space in the centre that Raul Garcia was not exploiting. Punal and Nekounam were too deep to offer anything of an attacking threat. Leo, who was stationed on the left, provided nothing in either an attacking or defensive sense.

Madrid’s 2nd goal was another spectacular effort. A strike of close on 30 yards from Ronaldo. Marcelo and Benzema overloaded the left wing forcing Roversio back and Sergio was reluctant to commit already being on a caution. With time and space in a central position, and Punal unable to close him down, Ronaldo opened up for his first goal of the game.

The third goal arrived moments later. The Osasuna high defensive line was punished when Granero played in Higuain who deftly flicked the ball over Fernandez.

2nd Half

Lekic replaced the ineffective Loe at half time and adopted a central position with Nino moving to the left.

The move paid dividends almost immediately. Roversio moved forward and whipped in a cross from the right. With Albiol and Ramos now dealing with the physical presence of Lekic, Nino was able to drift in behind Arbeloa and head in for Osasuna.

Lekic barely saw any of the ball in the first 20 or so minutes of the second half but his presence in a central position meant Ramos and Albiol no longer had the time and space they enjoyed in the first half when Nino moved to the left. The substitution also allowed Nino to start on the left and cut infield.

Madrid again beat the Osasuna offside trap in the 57th minute but after rounding Fernandez, Higuain collided with Ronaldo in a moment of farce with Higuain only requiring to knock the ball into the empty net.

With Osasuna playing at a higher tempo and playing further upfield and closer to the Madrid goal, the game was much more competitive. That changed with the 4th goal for Madrid in the 69th minute effectively killing the game.

A soft foul was awarded to Madrid on the edge of the area and Ronaldo scored courtesy of a deflected free kick. This was his 40th attempt at goal from a free kick since he last scored from a free kick.

Fernandez was cautioned in the immediate aftermath of the goal for dissent. He appeared to be still lining up his wall when Muniz Fernandez blew for the free kick to be taken.

The game as a contest was now finished and Madrid added a 5th goal in 76minutes. Again, Ronaldo comfortably beat Roversio and his cross was converted by Higuain.

Madrid created further opportunities but a combination of poor decision making and poor finishing meant the game finished 1-5.


For a side that relies on a physical approach and direct passing, the inclusion of Nino ahead of Lekic was surprising unless Lekic was not fully fit. Even allowing for this, surely it would have been better to utilise Lekic for an hour or so and then withdraw him hopefully whilst you were still competing in the game?

Instead, the introduction of Lekic when trailing 3-0 had an effect but it was never to be enough to even salvage a point for Osasuna.

Alonso returning to the  Madrid team was important, linking the defensive and attacking components together. His ability to switch play or hit first time passes and stretch Osasuna was important early on in establishing Madrid’s dominance and control of the match.

The high line of Osasuna can only work when the midfield presses effectively preventing the opponent from having time to choose passes. When Osasuna failed to press, Madrid took advantage of this.

Not a classic performance by Madrid but a ruthless one.

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Apoel vs Real Madrid

A match in which Madrid dominated for the entire duration yet had to wait until the 74th minute for their first goal. Statistically, there will probably never be a more one sided Champions League quarter final with Madrid having 70% possession compared to Apoel’s 30% and 20 shots at goal compared to Apoel’s 0.

The pattern of the game was not surprising. Apoel have averaged fewer shots and less possession than their opponents in each of the group phase games onwards his season. A highly organised and disciplined approach has enabled Apoel to progress despite their lack of individual talent.

Line Ups

Both sides lined up in 4-2-3-1 formations.

Apoel were minus the suspended Manduca with the more defensive Alexandrou replacing him.

Poursaitides          Oliveira         Paulo Jorge           Boaventura
Morais         Pinto
Charalmbides               Trickovski                              Alexandrou

Real Madrid made four changes from their weekend win over Real Sociedad. Pepe, Coentrao and Ozil all started along with Sahin who replaced the suspended Alonso.

Arbeloa                Pepe                   Ramos                   Coentrao
Khedira             Sahin
Benzema                                Ozil                                       Ronaldo

1st Half

The pattern of the game was visible from the opening minutes. Madrid dominating possession and Apoel dropping off and pressing once Madrid entered their half of the pitch.

The central area of the pitch was very congested with Apoel deploying an extremely narrow back four and reliant upon their wingers tracking back to cover the space vacated by the full backs.

Madrid were slow in possession and the movement from the front players was limited. With Madrid playing in front of them, Apoel although having little possession, were posed few problems by Madrid.

When Madrid did move the ball quickly, usually with a quick interchange of passes, coupled with darting runs forward, they created opportunities from wide. This was most notable in the 32nd minute when a quick pass released Sahin and his low cross was knocked over by Benzema and in the 43rd minute when Higuain released Ozil on the right and his cross was hit wide by Ronaldo. On both occasions, Madrid got behind the Apoel defence and had space to attack.

With both Apoel midfielders dropping deep, there was space in front of them and Ozil began to move deeper and wider, finding space and linking play.

Also, when Madrid attacked on the left, Apoel shifted across including their central midfielders and there was abundant space on the Madrid right but there was little cross field passing to exploit this.

2nd Half

Madrid began the second half with a higher tempo and the full backs pushing higher but the movement and passing still needed to be sharper against an opponent who was increasingly camped along their own 18 yard line.

On the few occasions when Apoel did break forward, they were reliant upon Ailton retaining possession until support arrived. In the 55th minute, Apoel pressed Madrid deep into their own half subsequently leading to a Madrid chance as Apoel became stretched and afforded Madrid space to move into and attack.

The key moment of the game arrived in the 62nd minute with a double substitution by Madrid. Higuain and Coentrao replaced by Kaka and Marcelo.

The entire Apoel team were now occupying a 20 yard strip within their own half and both wingers operating as auxiliary full backs.

Jovanovic made a surprising move in 67th minute with the forward Solari replacing the defensive midfielder Helio.

In the 74th minute, Kaka and Marcelo combined on the left and when Marcelo cut infield, no Apoel player followed Kaka to the left wing. Apoel had two players ahead of the ball at this point, Ailton and Solari. Would Helio have tracked Kaka?

Kaka had time to cross and find Benzema for the opening goal.

As Apoel tired, Madrid again found space on the left wing and Marcelo cut back for Kaka to score.

The final Madrid goal arrived in the 89th minute when Madrid scored on the counter attack.


Against a deep lying defence, quicker movement and passing was needed. Did Madrid miss Alonso? His range of passing and his ability to switch play with first time passes would certainly have stretched Apoel far more, particularly with cross field passing.

The introduction of Kaka and Marcelo was crucial. Both looked to play quicker passing and commit Apoel defenders. Combined with the removal of Helio, this gave Madrid more space in the centre.

Overall, a comfortable victory but one in which Madrid probably made things harder for themselves than it needed to be.

Is there a title race in La Liga?

On Saturday afternoon it was 10. Within the space of four days, there had been two right footed free kicks from former team mates. One top corner. One bottom corner. One Iker Casillas had no chance of saving. One that Iker Casillas probably should have saved.  And by midnight on Wednesday it was down to 6. And maybe, just maybe, there is a title race in La Liga after all.

The title is still overwhelmingly in Madrid’s favour. A lead of 6 points and 10 games left. But there are some potentially awkward away fixtures to be overcome and Madrid have also been grinding out results lately. Gaining the three points but performing below the level they had set earlier in the season.

They secured arguably undeserved victories, away to Rayo and Betis as they won 11 consecutive La Liga games in a row, just 1 short of equalling the club record of 12 consecutive victories set in season 09/10 under the guidance of Pellegrini.  The 12th game had witnessed a poor performance, missed chances and less possession than the opposition but a 1-0 lead as full time neared.

And then Cazorla hit the first free kick.

Madrid’s failure to close the game out allowed Malaga to steal a point and make it four games undefeated for Pellegrini’s men whilst also ensuring Pellegrini’s record of 12 consecutive victories stayed intact.

And so to El Madrigal and a Villarreal team onto their third coach of the season, the dour defensive, 4 times relegated Miguel Angel Lotina. In a game most noticeable for its stop start nature and persistent fouling, Madrid again were slow and lethargic. A moment of brilliance from Ronaldo enough to give them a 1-0.

Villarreal were camped in their own half, seemingly confused by Lotina’s substitutions, unable to regain their shape or threaten Madrid. On a rare foray into Madrid territory, Altintop tackled Oriol and won the ball but was deemed to be reckless by the referee who awarded a free kick to the submarine.

And then Senna hit the second free kick.

The implosion of Madrid following this, the dismissals of Ramos and Ozil accompanied by Mourinho, ignored the fact that Madrid still had enough time to salvage the three points. Even with only 9 men on the park, Villarreal were nervous, unsure whether to attack and try to gain all three points or take the solitary point in their fight against relegation.

And the gap narrowed to 6 points.

The remaining fixtures appear kinder to Barcelona than to Madrid who have awkward away fixtures against Osasuna and Atleti either side of a home game vs a Valencia side who may be entering the final throes of the Unai Emery reign.

Navigate those games unscathed and the next test awaits at the Camp Nou before their final away trip of the season to San Mames.

Of course, all of this talk of a title race is entirely predicated upon Barcelona maintaining their current form and continuing to win all their games. It is also assumed that Real Madrid will roll up to the Camp Nou in April and roll over.

Could Madrid not arrive at the Camp Nou and leave with at least a point?

Focusing solely on La Liga also ignores the elephant sitting in the room – Europe.

Madrid should be able to rotate and eliminate Apoel with some ease. A luxury Barcelona will not enjoy against AC Milan. Similarly, Madrid could face both Valencia and Atleti with both opponents stretched by the demands of the Europa League and the race to secure a top 4 spot in La Liga.

Can Simeone and Emery rotate their squads to maintain a fight on two fronts?

And so to the weekend’s fixtures.

Barcelona travel to Mallorca looking for their 7th consecutive win with limited options at full back. Alves is suspended and both Abidal and Adriano are injured. A makeshift defence seems likely with Puyol likely to go in at full back and Muniesa or Montoya used on the opposite flank.

Madrid welcome Sociedad with Ramos and Ozil suspended and Mourinho missing from the dug out and in need of a result and  a performance.

Madrid have lost 4 points in 4 days. It’s a sign that they are losing their nerve and the title will be retained by Barcelona. Or is it more about Madrid experiencing their first real dip in form of the season yet they still have a lead of 6 points and the season is drawing to a conclusion?

Where’s the Graphics?

Apologies for the lack of chalkboards on the site at present.

This is something I hope to resolve in the hear future.

Press, Press and More Pressing

A great game of football with Athletic running out 3-2 winners, a scoreline that arguably flatters Man Utd given the overall balance of play. After the initial stutter under Bielsa early on in the season, Athletic have gradually adapted to his methods demonstrated by the current run of just 3 defeats in the last 21 games in all competitions.

The performance against Man Utd was arguably their best under Bielsa, drawing the various strands of his game together and executing them brilliantly.

Line Ups

Athletic lined up in their variation of the 4-1-2-3 formation against Manchester Utd. With Amorebieta suspended, there was no real decision to be made for Bielsa and he went with his strongest line up.

The Starting Line Ups


Ferguson had stated prior to the game how Man Utd needed to improve in the Europa League and how an experienced team would be fielded against Athletic.

Man Utd lined up in a 4-4-1-1 / 4-4-2 formation.

Ferguson does not like to pair two similar players in midfield i.e. Carrick and Giggs or Anderson and Fletcher due to it making Man Utd lack mobility in the former or creativity in the latter.

The pairing of Giggs and Jones was designed to pair a passer with a runner. Man Utd had gone with a central midfield pairing of Carrick and Giggs against Newcastle and fell victim to a high press with neither Giggs or Carrick offering enough mobility in midfield.

First Half

Athletic started with their usual aggressive high pressing. Llorente aimed to press the centre backs whilst Evra and Rafael were closed down by Muniain and Susaeta when they moved forward.

Man Utd made a number of misplaced passes, some of which were due to sloppy play whilst others were forced from Athletic’s intensive pressing.

With Rooney behind Hernandez and Iturraspe the deepest of the Athletic midfielders, Rooney should have pressed him more during the game but failed to do so, in a similar fashion to how Rooney failed to press Busquets in the Champions League Final last season. This allowed Iturraspe to collect the ball and begin constructing moves, linking with Herrara in the centre of the pitch.

Athletic were content to play slow patient passing in their own half of the pitch before accelerating the speed of the play as they approached the Man Utd penalty area with Llorente used as a focal point, laying off the ball to De Marcos, Muniain and Susaeta as they moved forward at pace. They looked for quick 1-2’s and runners breaking in behind the defence which they repeatedly did on the right flank.

Jones often tried to break forward for Man Utd in the midfield but arguably the lack of discipline shown here contributed to Muniain having space to move infield from the left and attack the centre of the pitch. Giggs is no defensive midfielder and lacks mobility now. Jones should have stayed deep and offered protection to the defence.

Evra Attacked?

Athletic frequently overloaded the right wing in the first half. Was this a conscious decision to attack Evra? With Park naturally tucking in, it left Evra exposed to attacks from Iraola, Susaeta and De Marcos.

Indeed, on two occasions, Muniain also drifted to the right wing, swamping Man Utd in this area.

A number of long passed were hit between Evra and Evans in the first half with Susaeta or Iraola overlapping as the intended recipients potentially looking to expose positional flaws in Evra’s game.

Susaeta exposed the space between Evans and Evra for his lobbed chance in the latter part of the first half.

Athletic’s equalizer came from a ball to the right with Evra and Park tucking in, allowing Susaeta time to deliver the cross for Llorente to head in. Jones who was challenging Llorente on the edge of the penalty area failed to track his run.

Second Half

Man Utd attempted to press quicker and higher up early in the second half and Rooney appeared to be positioned further upfield but it was not a coherent press.

Giggs is too old in central midfield to press which led to an undisciplined, slightly half hearted press which Athletic were able to pass around. The general picture of the first half was replicated early in the second half.

Muniain forced a good save from De Gea in 49th minute but he was allowed far too much time to take his shot. Again, Jones was positioned in a line with the centre backs here but surely he should have been challenging Muniain and positioned in front of the centre backs?

The lack of pressure was apparent for De Marcos scoring. Herrara had time and space to lift the ball over the defence for De Marcos (in an offside position) to run onto and score.

The final Athletic goal was a compilation of defensive errors.

Firstly, Evans and Jones failed to communicate and challenged for the same ball, secondly, De Marcos managed to beat a fresh Anderson to the loose ball and get his shot at goal and finally, Rafael stood and watched as Muniain made up a gap of 15 yards to beat De Gea to the rebound.

Man Utd though had several chances in the second half mostly all on the counter attack.

For all their attacking intent, Bielsa teams are still prone to being exploited on the counter and were fortunate that the referee was quite lenient in the game with a few cynical fouls by Athletic to break up Man Utd counters.

It should come as no surprise that, although Athletic dominated possession, they also committed more fouls, 16 to Man Utd’s 11.


Man Utd made three second half substitutions, none of which had any impact upon the general direction of the game but each forced a reshuffle on the pitch.

Smalling was replaced by Carrick following his head knock early in the second half. Jones replaced Smalling in central defence and Carrick added a bit more composure to the Man Utd midfield. However, with two passers side by side, Carrick and Giggs, Man Utd were going to continue to struggle even against an Athletic side which was beginning to tire slightly.

In the 60th minute, Park was taken off and replaced by Anderson. Surprisingly, Rooney appeared to go wide left for a spell with Giggs behind Hernandez.

Was Rooney pushed wide left to assist Evra deal with Iraola etc attacking? Rooney was the deepest Man Utd player in the 65th minute as he cleared the ball from the corner flag.

In the 74th minute Giggs was replaced by Nani. Ashley Young moved to the left wing and Nani went onto the right wing with Rooney moved back into a central area.

Two subs for Athletic late on for straight replacements. Torquero for Llorente and Inigo Perez for Herrara. Torquero continued the aggressive pressing whilst Perez had no opportunity for any real impact.


A nearly flawless game from Athletic although they do still leave large gaps at the back for teams to exploit on the counter. They dominated possession and had more shots on and off target than Man Utd.

Questions remain though. Can such a small squad maintain such a high energy approach for the remainder of the season? With Osasuna at the weekend before facing Man Utd again, will their league form falter? How can they improve defensively without sacrificing any of their attacking intent?

From Man Utd’s perspective, they knew what Athletic would do and how they would approach the game yet they failed to respond.

The implementation of the 4-4-2ish system was wrong. Rooney did not press, Hernandez looked short on confidence when he had the ball and the team in general appeared laboured and slow.

The inclusion of Hernandez, who has fallen behind Wellbeck in recent times, was probably due to his pace with the aim being to exploit the high line which Athletic use. It was a tactic which failed as Hernandez was unable to exploit the space behind Athletic as Man Utd passed too slowly and were not direct enough.

The space against Athletic is behind the full backs. Iraola and Aurtenexte push high upfield and Martinez and Amorebieta or San Jose are not comfortable being pulled wide. Space can also be found in the midfield, with a noticeable gap between Iturraspe and the pairing of De Marcos and Herrera.

The constant reshuffling by Man Utd that took place between the 60th minute and 74th minute looked desperate as Man Utd searched for a solution.

Guardiola commented previously on the relentless pressing by Athletic. Perhaps Man Utd were caught out by the sheer intensity of their pressing and the high tempo which occurred for the duration of the game.

In my view, they should have known how Athletic would play in advance. The line up and tactics were in no way surprising.