Mallorca vs Real Madrid

When the fixture list was announced, it is likely that Mourinho would have highlighted the away trip to face Joaquin Caparros’ Mallorca side an as awkward away fixture, particularly as it arrived immediately following a tough Champions League appointment away to Borussia Dortmund.

Having suffered four defeats in seven away games in all competitions this season, this game should have presented some questions for Madrid and Mourinho to answer.

What Mourinho would not have expected would be an insipid display from the hosts which enabled Madrid to win comfortably whilst performing well within their normal capabilities.

Madrid cruised to a 5-0 away victory and the concern over fatigue both physical and mental never arose.

Madrid Set Up and Mallorca Approach

With three full backs still missing, Essien was again forced to deputise at left back.

And, as against Dortmund , Mallorca targeted the Ghanian by focussing their attack in the first half almost exclusively down the Real Madrid left. The graphic below clearly illustrates this:-

Mallorca 1st Half Passes vs Madrid                         http://www.squawka.com

Mallorca repeatedly played passes towards their right wing. Initially Nsue started on the right and attacked Essien but all too often the attack broke down. Xabi Alonso moved slightly to the left to provide support to Essien but Mallorca failed to take advantage of any potential openings which did come their way. A more direct approach should have been adopted to try and isolate Essien quickly especially as he sometimes drifts into the centre which is to be expected as he is a central midfielder but too often the play from Mallorca was laboured.

The final pass lacked quality whilst many attacks broke down through poor decision making. Mallorca ‘s best opportunity arose from a misplaced cross from Nsue which Casillas tipped over. Ironically, this came from an attack down the left flank. Despite Madrid being below their best, Mallorca never placed their opponents under any sustained pressure. The tempo of the game was seldom lifted by the hosts.

This was definitely not a normal performance from a team managed by Caparros.

Defensive Fragility

When playing either Real Madrid or Barcelona , there are two key points which lesser opponents much adhere to. Don’t concede cheap goals and don’t concede early.

Mallorca conspired to do both, finding themselves two goals behind after just 21 minutes and the game was effectively over as a contest.

The opening goal arose when Conceicao needlessly gave away possession. Real Madrid gathered the loose ball and a pass was flicked through towards Higuain. Conceicao had regained his position well and was ideally placed to intercept the ball. Yet in his attempt to control the ball, he somehow managed to allow the ball to break off his thigh and into the path of Higuain who gratefully accepted this gift and scored the opening goal.

The second goal was just as bad from a Mallorca perspective. Fontas was pressed and conceded possession just outside the penalty area. Now out of position, he was easily beaten and the ball was quickly worked to the opposite side of the penalty area before Ronald drilled a shot low into the corner of the net.

This was Ronaldo’s 14th goal in the last 8 games and, incredibly, he now has an outrageous 164 goals in 157 games for Real Madrid.

In the second half following Mourinho’s appearance in the technical area when he demonstrated his displeasure with the level of performance, Madrid stepped up the intensity of their play and scored a further three goals. Their passing and movement was much sharper now and a lethargic Mallorca simply could not compete.

Modric or Khedira?

Following a recurrence of his hamstring injury during the game in Dortmund , Sami Khedira was replaced in the starting line up by Luka Modric who started in central midfield alongside Alonso.

Khedira is often criticised yet when he is not in the Madrid team, it is easy to identify what he brings to the side. There was a lack of urgency about Madrid early on. They lacked the dynamism and industry which Khedira adds to the side. He may be one of the less glamorous players within the side, but his role is an essential part for the Madrid machine to function correctly.

The differences between both players statistically is not that substantial and is broadly what you would expect. Modric play more passes and with a greater degree of accuracy whereas Khedira excels at the more defensive side of the game, making tackles and closing opponents down.

With Modric still adjusting to life at Madrid and the requirements of him, the midfield was unable to function as intended particularly in the first half. Despite a very high pass completion rate, Modric was not involved as heavily as he would have liked. His pass statistics for the game as a whole are shown below:-

Modric Passes vs Mallorca                                                     http://www.squawka.com

Modric became more involved as the game progressed and with hindsight, perhaps this was the perfect opportunity to embed himself within the Madrid system. Mallorca offered no challenge and Modric was able to find his feet and begin the process of adaptation.

Modric operated ahead of Alonso and behind Ozil, able to move laterally as well in an effort to build play together. Once he fully adjusts to Madrid, the diminutive Croatian should prove his worth.

Conclusions

Joaquin Caparros was clearly animated in the technical area for the majority of the game. Afterwards he spoke of Mallorca playing with no “intensity” and playing as if it was a “tribute match”.

The defeat makes it four straight defeats in a row now for the Islanders with Barcelona waiting in their next home fixture. What began promisingly with an early season run of good form is now becoming a serious issue which Caparros needs to turn round.

Whilst Mourinho was clearly displeased with the performance early in the second half, he will be content with an easy game which never asked any questions of his side. A difficult, physical encounter could have posed questions on the back if the Champions League game. Madrid now has their first back to back clean sheets in La Liga this season.

A professional, almost perfunctory, performance from Madrid . They did what was necessary to leave with the points secured whilst conserving themselves for the tougher challenges which lie ahead.

All graphics and statistics taken from www.squawka.com

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Valencia vs Athletic Bilbao – Three Short Observations

Valencia emerged victorious from an open and enjoyable game at the Mestalla on Saturday evening.

Athletic started brightly, playing at a high tempo and at a level much closer to the side which performed well during last season. Key players such as Muniain and Herrara are back in the side, close to full fitness after injury. There was a greater sense of urgency to their play and with Herrara providing the link in midfield, reducing the temptation to always go long, there was a better balance, structure and variety to their attacks.

Valencia gradually settled and would eventually go on to dominate possession with 55% compared to Athletic’s 45%. The key moment in the game was the sending off of Ander Herrara after 66 minutes which enable Pellegrino to make more adventurous substitutions and forced Athletic onto the back foot.

The concession of two late goals would normally raise a degree of consternation yet Bielsa declared himself happy despite the defeat, in doing so acknowledging that this was possibly the best that Athletic had performed all season.

Aritz Aduriz

“He played very well. His performance was extremely valuable to us”

Marcelo Bielsa

There seems to be a constant discussion on Bielsa’s decision to select Aduriz ahead of Llorente to the extent whereby Bielsa commented on the performance of Aduriz on Saturday evening. Lost within this discussion is the fact that Aduriz has already scored eight goals with season, two of whcih arrived at the Mestalla.

Aritz Aduriz Heat Map                                                     http://www.squawka.com

The heat map above shows Aduriz’s movement around the pitch. He is much more mobile than Llorente and able to close opposing defenders down quickly which was one of the reasons for the livelier start from Athletic on Saturday. They pressed and closed down Valencia who were unable to develop any pattern of play particularly due to both Gago and Costa sitting deep and Jonas not really being involved.

The flip side of this argument is that Llorente is technically superior and with a greater physical presence, ideal for using as a target man. Athletic still persist with going direct to Aduriz at times. Despite being involved in 9 aerial duels on Saturday, Aduriz only won 2 of these. Athletic need to play more short passes to him as he is unable to hold the ball up as well as Llorente.

Ander Herrara

The return of Ander Herrara to the Athletic team has provided a much needed boost of creativity and composure to the side. Without Herrara proving a calming influence in the midfield alongside the energy and industry of De Marcos and Iturraspe, Athletic are too direct and one dimensional.

Herrara Passes vs Valencia                                        http://www.squawka.com

Herrara moved laterally across the midfield area, providing an outlet for team mates under pressure and generally recycling possession. His short and long range passing enables the team retain possession although Athletic are still toiling in this regard this season. Their pass completion rate on Saturday evening was just 67% as they conceded possession too easily and much too often.

Yet all his good work was undone when he was red carded following a moment of stupidity, kicking out at Tino Costa. From that moment, the initiative, although already moving in Valencia’s favour, went completely towards Los Che.

Athletic moved towards a 4-1-4-0. Aduriz was withdrawn and Aurtenexte came on. This resulted in the young Basque moving to his favoured left back position and Inigo Perez moving into midfield. De Marcos became the default attacker, looking to break forward from midfield when Athletic had possession.

The formation led to Athletic falling deeper as the second half wore on with Valencia enjoying a significant territorial advantage whilst seldom appearing to cause great concern to Iraizoz in the Athletic goal.

Valencia – A Work in Progress?

With ex-player Mauricio Pellegrino now in charge at the Mestalla, the side remain a work in progress as he attempts to install his philosophy on the team.

Retaining the same shape as his predecessor Emery, Pellegrino has set this team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation. There are of course, a couple of differences.

The loss of Jordi Alba to Barcelona has been a huge blow. Individually, a superb player but collectively his loss is acutely felt on the left side where he had developed an excellent relationship with Mathieu.

Athletic attacked the Valencia left early on and managed to carve out some half chances before the opening goal was scored when Muniain delivered a pass on the inside of Mathieu. The Frenchman managed to get a foot to the ball but could only divert the ball into the path of Aduriz who calmed scored with a lovely curling shot.

The problem against Athletic is that ahead of Mathieu was the attack minded winger, Juan Bernat. His natural inclination is to move forward leaving Mathieu exposed which is exacerbated by Athletics’ tendency to overload their right flank. Guardado would provide more support but was benched after international duty with Mexico.

The second Athletic goal should be a concern for Pellegrino as the defence of a corner was extremely poor. The ball dropping onto Aduriz who knocked the ball in with Guaita stranded.

Whilst the acquisition of Gago has the potential to be an upgrade on the departed Mehmet Topal, much of his work is done defensively and performing a similar role to Tino Costa. Without Ever Banega in the team, the balance is not quite right. Returning from a long, and self inflicted, injury, the brief appearance by Banega demonstrated why he is so important for the side. Completing 11 from his 12 attempted passes, the Argentinean has the ability to unlock defences with his accurate passing.

All graphics and statistics taken from www.squawka.com

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