Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid – Tactical Analysis

After all the talking, after all the hype, after the 21,000 Atleti fans who turned up to watch their side’s final training session, after the Mourinho press conferences, this was it. The first derbi el madrileno of the season. Possibly one of the most important derby’s in some time. And one in which Atleti went, yet again, in search of that elusive victory against their more illustrious rivals.

Everyone knows the background to Atleti’s last derby win. It really was 1999 the last time Atleti were victorious and it really was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring in that game.

Atleti went into this game on form and with an eight point lead over Madrid in the table. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Madrid took all three points in an awful game illuminated only by a few fleeting moments of magic from Ronaldo.

Line Ups

Mourinho named arguably his strongest starting line up for the game, retaining faith in the side that had lost 1-0 away to Real Betis the previous week.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Diego “El Cholo” Simeone’s plans were disrupted before kick off when Filipe Luis suffered an injury during the warm up. Although he declared himself fit, Simeone was unwilling to run the risk of a greater lay off as a consequence of his participation. Cata Diaz came in at left back.

Atleti Starting Line Up

Atleti Starting Line Up

The only other change for Simeone was the return of Mario following a suspension. Tiago dropped to the bench.

Atleti started with the same 4-4-2 formation which had comfortably seen off Sevilla 4-0 in their last league outing.

The Game

This was a game which was instantly forgettable in so many respects. A game that never developed with neither side showing any real guile or craft until the latter stages when Madrid led 2-0. With both sides noted for their counter attacking abilities and preference to allow their opponent to open up and attack them, the opening goal was always going to be crucial. Yet there were a few bright interludes amidst a scrappy, niggly game.

Atleti started brightly if not cohesively when in possession. Both Gabi and Mario were prepared to support their attackers and press Madrid in defence to try and create more of a long ball style game, something which would suit Atleti with a number of their players superior aerially. Too often they went direct seeking their strike pairing.

On the few occasions that Madrid had to defend free kicks towards their penalty area, they held a very high line to prevent Atleti players being able to head at goal. If they lost the initial header, Madrid would still be able to compete or the second ball.

Madrid were unable to get their forward players involved in the game. Ozil feeding Benzema after 28 minutes was one of the few occasions when they found space behind the Atleti pairing of Gabi and Mario.

The one moment which lit up a drab first half was the opening goal by Ronaldo. Arda Turan inexplicably handballed around 25 yards from goal in a central position enabling Ronaldo to strike a perfect free kick up and over the wall for the opening goal. The expression on Casillas face when the goal was scored said everything about it.

And the second half continued in a similar vein. Petulant fouls were the order of the day with both sides cancelling each other out. Atleti struggled to get support forward to Falcao and Costa whilst Madrid were unable to break Atleti down with space between Atleti’s compact lines at a premium.

The key point in the second half again involved Ronaldo. Miranda missed a header near the halfway line enabling Ronaldo to gather possession. The Portuguese initial pass to Benzema was blocked but he cleverly reversed the ball to Ozil who was free to score Madrid’s second goal. Although he had a relatively quiet night in terms of the quality of his overall performance, Ronaldo’s contribution was still pivotal.

The goal changed the dynamic of the game with Atleti having to open up more and chase the game. The player who benefited the most from this was the goalscorer himself, Ozil.

Ozil’s Involvement

With Atleti very compact, space between the lines was scarce in the first half of this game and consequently, Ozil toiled to gain a foothold in the game.

The graphics below show his first and second half passes:-

Mesut Ozil 2nd Half Passes

Mesut Ozil 2nd Half Passes                               

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes                                  

Ozil was forced to operate too deep in the first half, unable to break through Atleti’s lines and closely marked but in the second half with Atleti beginning to push forward more and with their players tiring, there was greater space available to move into. Ozil was now playing higher and making passes in the final third of the pitch. His perfectly weighted pass following a quick Madrid transition late in the game saw Ronaldo hit the post. It was one of the few counter attacks with real venom from either side.

Atleti Left

One of the key areas of the Atleti team is the left wing with the forward runs of Luis Filipe from left back. In league games, approximately 42% of all Atleti attacks originate on the left side.

Cata Diaz Heat Map vs Real Madrid

Cata Diaz Heat Map vs Real Madrid

The use of centre back Cata Diaz as a makeshift left back created an imbalance in the Atleti team. Cata Diaz seldom pushed into the Madrid half to support Arda and naturally, gravitated towards the centre of the defence leaving Atleti narrow on the left. Should Simeone have used Cisma at left back? He would have been a more natural fit for the side. The inclusion of Cata Diaz created a real problem for Arda Turan. He was forced to undertake greater defensive responsibilities and offered little in a attacking role.

Arda Turan Passes vs Real Madrid

Arda Turan Passes vs Real Madrid

In his 77 minutes on the pitch, Arda completed just 9 passes from an attempted 13. A brief switch to the right flank was marginally successful but left Koke with the same problem on the left.

It was somewhat fortunate that Atleti were facing Arbeloa, a conservative full back, and Di Maria, an inverted winger and the defensive duties of Arda and Cata Diaz were never stretched but it came at the price of attacking verve. And with Atleti playing a front two, there was nobody in midfield able to shuffle across and lend Arda some assistance.

With Arda pushed back, who would supply the front pairing?

Diego Costa

The inclusion of Diego Costa was something of a surprise move by Simone. His inclusion meant that Atleti moved to a more orthodox 4-4-2 as had been deployed against Sevilla the previous weekend. This is a departure from the tried and tested 4-2-3-1.

If Atleti were going to maximise the ability and potential of both Costa and Falcao, they needed to get the ball forward but too often Atleti resorted to long hopeful balls rather than moving the ball wide and delivering crosses into the box via Koke and Arda. Just as Atleti had failed to support Falcao in the 4-1 home defeat last season, they again failed to support Falcao and Costa with no service from the flanks. For a side that relies heavily upon crosses, averaging 25 per game, Atleti only attempted 11 crosses. With limited possession and poor passing (only 190 successful passes from 302 attempted) Falcao and Costa were left to forage upon meager scraps.

Last season, whilst on loan at Rayo Vallecano, Diego Costa had produced an excellent performance against Real Madrid causing their central defensive partnership numerous problems that evening despite Rayo losing 1-0.

It appears that El Cholo believed that Costa could replicate that performance again but it failed to arrive. Costa should have been removed at half time with Adrian or Emre introduced to gain a better balance in midfield with support for Arda. Instead, Diego Costa remained on the pitch with a performance that is best summarised by an ongoing display of petulance towards his opponent, participating in a number of petty feuds across the pitch with whoever would indulge him. Sadly, given the importance of the occasion, too many players on both sides were prepared to become pre-occupied with committing fouls.

Lack of Rhythm

Important games seldom begin fluently, rather they take time to develop with either side keen to test their adversary before finding a sense of rhythm and patterns of play developing. At the Bernabeu last night, this was lacking:-

Madrid vs Atleti - Fouls

Madrid vs Atleti – Fouls                                        

A total of 42 fouls were awarded during the game with the most surprising feature being the leniency shown by referee Undiano Mallenco. The game rarely developed beyond a few passes before any flow was disrupted.


Madrid secure a 2-0 victory but were the real winners Barcelona? They maintain their 11 point advantage over Madrid but now enjoy a more comfortable 6 point lead over Atleti in 2nd place.

In a game that was instantly forgettable except for the Ronaldo free kick, the victory was the only thing that mattered and Madrid secured this. Will any Madridista’s complain about the quality of the victory if this is the catalyst to push on in the pursuit of Barcelona? No, the pragmatic will realise this is another 3 points in the bank and an incredibly important 3 points at that.

And so the wait continues for Atleti. Another year passes without a win against their great rivals. And Simeone awaits his first taste of victory against Madrid. Having never beaten them during his time playing, he now has two defeats in his short time as Atleti manager. El Cholo must ensure there is no hangover from this defeat. They still enjoy a 5 point lead over Madrid and have enjoyed a superb 12 month period under the stewardship of the Argentinean. They must remain focused and continue to perform as they have done so far if they have any intention of disrupting the hegemony of the big two in Spain.

All statistics and graphics taken from


Real Madrid vs Dortmund

An excellent and hard fought 2-2 draw was played out at Santiago Bernabeu between the reigning Spanish and German Champions. This was the much clichéd game of two half’s with Dortmund being in the ascendency during the opening period of the game before Madrid took control and completely dominated the second half.

The game started at a very high tempo particularly by Madrid who made a number of early attempts to get in behind the high Dortmund defence with long diagonal passes. When the game began to settle down around the 10th minute, a number of issues were becoming more prevalent.

Real Madrid Defence

Dortmund were using Lewandowski as a central target to play off, exploiting the space between the Madrid defence and midfield on fast transitions. Twice in the opening stages, Dortmund moved down their left on quick breaks with Casillas saving from Schmelzer in the 8th minute

It was notable how Di Maria temporarily adopted a slightly deeper defensive position on the right, aware of the problems which Ramos was encountering in the right back position.

Without Khedira alongside him, Alonso was being pressed and playing slightly higher providing the gap between defence and midfield which Dortmund were aiming to exploit with forward running from the midfield area.

The opening goal was an example of confusion in the Madrid defence and space behind the full backs.

Following a period of possession by Dortmund, the ball was moved backwards before a long ball was aimed towards Lewandowski who had pulled onto Varane. Pepe moved from left centre back to challenge but lost out to the Pole who flicked the ball onto the forward moving Reus who had ran off Arbeloa. Had Pepe not moved across, he would have been in position to challenge Reus.

The second Dortmund goal again exploited space behind the full back, this occasion it was on the left and behind Ramos. Again, a long ball was won in the air by Lewandowski and Grosskreutz moved into space behind Ramos before passing through to Gotze. Arbeloa unfortunately made the final touch, prodding the ball beyond Casillas.

By contrast, Dortmund were holding a high line with the midfield sitting just in front, preventing any space from developing between the lines and reducing the impact of Ozil. With coordinated pressing when Madrid reached the halfway line, the defence could push high. Madrid contributed to their own downfall by becoming too vertical and playing too many forward passes.

The one significant defensive error which Dortmund committed in the first half enabled Pepe to score the first equalising goal. The Germans failing to clear a corner adequately and Pepe powerfully headed home from the second cross.


The fast tempo of the game with the emphasis on transitions suited Dortmund who were able to press Madrid aggressively and play on the counter attack. Dortmund are well known for playing a high energy style of football with a young team capable of sustaining such an approach for the full duration of a game.

With aggressive pressing and Madrid playing directly, Dortmund were able to maintain their high defensive line. Madrid needed to slow the game down and force their style of play onto the Bundesliga Champions. By constructing moves patiently, Madrid would be able to force Dortmund deeper.

Taking that into consideration, the starting line up from Madrid was perhaps slightly unexpected. With Dortmund bringing a physical game in terms of effort, it would surely have made more sense for Mourinho to begin the game with Essien supporting Alonso in a deep midfield role?

Essien is not renowned for quick passing either and would have slowed the tempo of the game.

Khedira Out – The Modric or Essien Dilemma

The changes which Mourinho made at half time were somewhat inevitable. Higuain was withdrawn even though he should have been removed much earlier when it became apparent that a hamstring injury had rendered him ineffective, reducing his mobility considerably. Callejon immediately offered more movement than Higuain.

The second change saw Essien replace Modric and slot into central midfield. This switch should arguably have been undertaken in the original team selection.

These changes allowed Madrid to completely dominate their opponents.

Modric has the potential to be a fine player for Madrid. Intelligent, creative and with a great range of passing, he will progress to become an asset. At this stage of his Madrid career, there are still, understandably, teething issues. Despite having a high pass completion rate of 87% (completing 33 from 38 passes) during his 45 minutes on the pitch, Modric may need to temper his tendency to seek forward passes. Arriving from the Premiership were the pace of the game is greater and much more vertical, a slight adjustment in style is needed to strike a balance between a vertical approach and more lateral passing to stretch opponents.

This is what Essien offered in the second half. With a pass completion rate of 83% (30 passes from 36 completed), the Ghanian was more content to slow the game down and stretch Dortmund with lateral passing.

Slower passing enable Madrid to move up the pitch as a unit and combined with the increased movement from Callejon, this forced Dortmund further back. The graphics below show Dortmund’s back four becoming tighter and the midfield moving closer together as they defended more.

Dortmund Average Positions 1st Half

Dortmund Average Positions 2nd Half

One slight concern for Madrid though was how narrow they became at times with Callejon and Di Maria cutting in from the left and right respectively. The width had to arrive from full back but Arbeloa is a naturally conservative full back and the marauding runs of Ramos were curtailed by the events of the first half.

Despite Madrid dominating possession, the equalising goal almost never arrived. In the 89th minute Ozil scored a lovely goal from a free kick to draw the game level. Questions may be asked over Weidenfeller as he appeared cumbersome as he moved across towards the ball. The free kick was positioned perfectly in the corner but the precision came at the cost of pace. The outcome was entirely deserved and a reward was the more patient probing which Madrid showed during the second half.

The result leaves the group delicately poised. Dortmund now have a home game against Ajax whilst Madrid travel to the Etihad to face Man City in a game which both teams need points for differing reasons.Madrid have the safety of their final group game being at home against Ajax should there be an upset at the Etihad. And that is what it would be if Man City somehow managed to overcome Madrid.

Madrid will quality from the group but perhaps not in 1st position which could lead to a more awkward opponent in the last 16 of the competition. Mourinho would quickly point out however, that on the two occasions he has led teams to Champions League success, they finished second in the group stage.

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               

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                                           

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.


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

Barcelona vs Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis

The third clasico of the season, but the first meeting in the league, ended all square at the Camp Nou, Messi 2 Ronaldo 2.

Or at least that is what many in the media would have you believe. And while these two players are the clear stand out performers for both teams, there is much more than their individual performances to discuss.

The game lacked the same level of aggression and intensity that has been so prevalent in recent encounters between the two. There were also a couple of developments which broke from the norm. Barcelona committed more fouls than their counterparts (17vs16) and Madrid scored two goals from superbly constructed moves in comparison to Barcelona’s goals arriving via a defensive error and a sublime free kick.

Line Ups

Both managers made changes to their starting line ups following their away victories midweek in the Champions League.

Vilanova, somewhat surprisingly, chose to replace the injured Puyol with Adriano. Further forward, Iniesta returned following injury with Sanchez dropping to the bench.

Barcelona Starting Line Up

Despite the inclusion of three full backs in Alba, Adriano and Alves with only one centre back in Mascherano, Barcelona lined up with a back four. Adriano operating as a left sided makeshift centre back.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Mourinho brought back Di Maria, Khedira and Ozil into the starting eleven with Essien, Callejon and Kaka all sitting on the bench.

Madrid began with their now familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.

Set Up

The inclusion of Iniesta at the expense of Sanchez provided Barcelona with increased depth and strength in the midfield area but removed their attacking threat on the wide left area. Iniesta tucked inside closer to central midfield.

Vilanova would have assumed that Iniesta could afford to do so rather than hold a left sided position as Arbeloa is not the most threatening of full backs. Arbeloa followed Iniesta inside opening up the left flank. This would then allow Alba to move freely on the left as Di Maria naturally drifts inward also. However, Khedira made a number of runs forward, pulling to the right and looking to expose the space behind Alba.

It’s been a common theme in clasico’s whereby Madrid seek to expose Barcelona on the counter and in behind the full backs.

For Madrid, the team operated more or less as anticipated when the line up was announced.

Ozil was able to drift laterally on either side behind Benzema whilst Ronaldo operated in the inside left channel looking to either cut inward or occasionally go on the outside of the full back. Marcelo sought to attack when possible, causing Dani Alves some problems early on with his attacking impetus.

The game, after the first 30 or so minutes settled down into the pattern which we have witnessed recently. Barcelona dominate possession whilst Real Madrid seek to counter attack. Barcelona made 637 successful passes from an attempted 724, a pass completion rate of 88%. With a more direct style, Madrid completed 237 passes from 322 attempted, a completion rate of 74%. The game threatened but never reached the heights of recent clashes in a collective sense but individually, Messi and Ronaldo demonstrated their standing as the best players in the world.

First Half

Real Madrid settled much quicker than their hosts creating a number of opportunities which are examined later, including the opening goal from Ronaldo.

Barcelona failed to find any rhythm as Madrid pressed intelligently. When attacking, Barcelona moved centrally too often leading to the play being congested. Real kept the space between their lines to a minimum and defended narrowly. With Iniesta tucking in from the left and Arbeloa following, the central area was often packed.

Madrid were defending well, preventing any space from developing. The only real outlet for Barcelona was via Pedro who offered genuine width on the right. The equalising goal arrived from a Pedro cross. With Madrid holding two narrow banks, Pedro had time and space to receive a pass and cross the ball before Marcelo closed him down. Pepe badly misjudged the bounce of the ball and Messi was able to score.

Second Half

Real Madrid continued to sit deep and allow Barcelona to attack, operating with Ronaldo and Ozil normally left up front on their own.

Both sides still appeared tentative. Khedira broke forward on the right again and support was available but the move fell away. On two separate occasions, Alba and Pedro provided crosses but no Barcelona players were in the penalty area to take advantage.

Barcelona took the lead from a near perfect free kick from Messi. Again,Messi received the ball centrally but was subsequently fouled by Alonso. The execution of the free kick was superb.

Prior to the goal, Barcelona were about to make a substitute, withdrawing Cesc for Sanchez. An attacking move, the substitution still went ahead despite Barcelona now leading. With Madrid trailing, the game would become stretched providing space for Sanchez to break into and to create by holding a wide left position.

There was little opportunity for Sanchez to have any impact before Madrid equalised. Madrid pressed effectively in midfield and the ball broke to Ozil who hit a wonderful pass through the Barcelona defence for Ronaldo to collect and sweep home.

No real clear cut chances emerged after this.

Too Conservative?

Were both teams too conservative in the game?

Barcelona have had defensive difficulties thus far this season and have yet to field the same defensive line up in two successive games. This is compounded by the present injury situation which required Adriano to deputise as a makeshift centre back. Vilanova seemingly deciding that neither Song or Bartra were suitable replacements. The inclusion of both Iniesta and Cesc ahead of Sanchez meant there was no real width on the left handside unless Alba moved forward. A key aspect of Messi moving deeper to perform a No10 role has been the need for inward runs from the wingers to a No9 position providing an attacking threat and occupying the opposition defenders. Without this, the opposition can push high and squeeze Barcelona. If the wingers don’t provide diagonal runs, the midfielders, principally Cesc, must break forward. This was not adequately addressed as midfielders breaking forward seldom occurred and there were no options on the left and Pedro remained wide right.

The graphic below highlights Barcelona ’s heat map from the game. There was little activity within the Real Madrid penalty area. There was not enough mobility from Barcelona in forward areas

Barcelona Heat Map vs Real Madrid                         

Vilanova sacrificed attacking width for midfield security. Too often, there was nobody willing to run beyond the ball or Barcelona . Xavi, whilst excellent with his distribution, had few options for the killer pass and operated slightly deeper than normal. An indication of Barcelona’s desire to protect the defence.

Xavi Passes vs Real Madrid                                        

From the Madrid perspective, why did Mourinho not force the issue more? Real Madrid created a number of early chances and should have led by at least two goals by the time that Messi struck. The goal seemed to energise Barcelona whilst Madrid retreated into a more defensive frame of mind. Should Madrid not have pressed Barcelona more, taking advantage of the uncertainty within their defence?

Did the conservative line up from Barcelona have a knock effect on Real Madrid?

The normal space which Real Madrid can exploit against Barcelona was not available. Barcelona sought and gained midfield security for the remainder of the team, committing fewer players in attack.The extent to which Madrid dropped off Barcelona can be seen by the graphic below which shows all of Real Madrid’s tackles in the game. All were attempted within their own half of the pitch.

Real Madrid Tackles vs Barcelona                                   

The defence moved deep but held a solid line, close to the midfield preventing Barcelona from having the space in which passing movements could be constructed. Madrid were seldom forced into last ditch clearances or tackles around their penalty area.

Real Madrid Chances

Real created a number of clear cut chances in the early stages of the game. Whilst there were some elements of poor defensive play involved, Madrid crafted a number of openings through their intelligent play and movement of the players.

Benzema had an early chance in the 12th minute when a Ronaldo cross from the right arrived at the far post where the French internationalist arrived unmarked, but hit his shot wide. Dani Alves had been attracted towards the run of Marcelo.

Sergio Ramos should have scored in the 20th minute when he was allowed a free header at a corner kick. Interestingly, Barcelona were using a combination of man marking and zonal marking perhaps to compensate for their lack of height and the threat which Madrid carry at such set pieces.

Ronaldo’s first goal arrived following a well worked move from Madrid. The move was instigated by a diagonal from Xabi Alonso to Khedira high on the right wing. The ball was eventually recycled to Ronaldo who broke inward on the left. Alves, similar to his positioning against Sevilla when Trochowski scored, failed to close Ronaldo down and provide an attempted block.

The graphic above illustrates the gap which Ronaldo exploited with Barcelona attracted to the ball. Ronaldo’s drilled shot beating Valdes at his near post.

Immediately following their goal, Madrid pressed Barcelona very aggressively sensing that the Blaugrana were struggling for composure and solidity at the back. Benzema hit the post in the 24th minute. Di Maria ran forward into the penalty area before passing to Benzema. No Barcelona player matched the run of Di Maria.

That Madrid failed to add to their opening goal would have been the only real issue for Mournho during those opening 30minutes. Madrid were organised and efficient with an incisive edge going forward.


Who will be the happier manager following the game?

This was surely the time for Mourinho and Madrid to press Barcelona and take advantage of their poor defensive set up and patched up defence yet it never quite materialised following the initial good start to the game.

Madrid remain 8 points behind Barcelona but perhaps crucially, they now, in theory, have the edge in the head to head record based upon the assumption that they win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

They used to be here,” Mourinho said, gesturing with his hands. “And we were down here. Now, they’re still up here but so are we.”

For Vilanova, the record breaking seven opening game winning streak was missed but he must be pleased with how the team performed given the line up. Defensive anxieties returned once more and whilst Barcelona have been fortunate in games this season, the defensive situation needs addressed at the earliest opportunity.

At this early stage of the season, perhaps both managers were content with a point. Titles are not won or lost in October.

All graphics and statistics taken from

Sevilla vs Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis

Real Madrid arrived at the Sanchez Pizjuan in the unusual position of being below Sevilla in La Liga. They remained below their hosts as they departed too with a 1-0 defeat condemning the Madrid side to their worst league start in over a decade.

On their two previous visits, the title holders had emphatically defeated their host’s with comprehensive 6-2 victories yet the Andalusian team displayed an intensity and workrate for the whole game which Madrid failed to match and as a result were unable to impose themselves.

Line Ups

Michel made one change from the side which drew 0-0 away to Rayo Vallecano prior to the international break.

Manu was removed from the team to be replaced by Maduro, a clear indication of the need for increased defensive stability from Sevilla.

Sevilla Starting Line Up

Mourinho started with the anticipated side. Marcelo continues at left back in place of the suspended Coentrao. Modric started on the bench once more.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

The Madrid shape was their customary 4-2-3-1 with Higuain once more preferred to Benzema as the lone striker.

Sevilla Approach

From the opening minutes of this game, it was apparent how Sevilla were going to play. Their approach was going to be fast, direct and in the face of their opponents. The passing statistics bear witness to this approach. Sevilla made 241 successful passes from an attempted 361 passes. With pass accuracy of just 66% and overall possession of just 42%. Sevilla did not require possession to hurt Madrid. They retained shape, competed and sought Negredo and the increasingly important Navas for penetration at the earliest opportunity.

Sevilla set up in a 4-2-3-1 with some important points to note. The “2” stayed very central and close to the centre backs, Maduro playing deeper than Medel.

Upfield, Rakitic was deployed centrally with Trochowski very narrow on the left and supporting his colleague in the centre. This contrasted sharply with Jesus Navas on the right who provided width and pace with the intention of supporting Negredo in the striking role.

The full backs adopted similar roles. Cicinho looked to get forward and support Navas whereas Navarro stayed deep, aware that he had no direct cover in front of him.

The early part of the game was punctured with fouls, there was 14 in the opening 30 minutes. This stop start nature suited Sevilla as it prevented Madrid from finding any semblance of fluency in their play and it continued for much of the game although the number of fouls committed tailed off.

Sevilla Fouls vs Real Madrid                                           

The fouls were also being committed high up the pitch, away from the Sevilla penalty area. The rojiblancos were holding a relatively high line and squeezing the play in the centre of the pitch, suffocating their opponents. Ronaldo only had two opportunities to shoot at goal from a free kick during the game.

In the opening 25minutes of the match, Ronaldo, Higuain and Ozil were all fouled in aerial challenges around the halfway line. Sevilla had laid down a marker.

Sevilla collected three cautions, two of which were for fouls committed in their opponents half of the pitch. The third yellow card arose from the confrontation between Navarro and Higuain.

The Goal

The only goal of the game was scored in the 1st minute. Sevilla had begun the game at a very high tempo and Casillas had already been called into action before the home side gained the first corner of the match. With some atrocious defending, the ball was allowed to drop in the centre of the penalty area around 8 yards out where the oncoming Trochowski met it on the half volley. Higuain was supposed to be marking Trochowski but allowed his opponent to run off him.

Madrid Problems

Madrid allowed themselves to get drawn into a scrap with Sevilla instead of focussing upon building the play. Despite having 58% possession, Madrid only made 466 successful passes from an attempted 576. With just 80% pass accuracy, los blancos were not passing the ball enough and too often passing was sloppy and misplaced. Everything was rushed and increasingly they went long and to the wings, unable to pick their way through the centre of the pitch. Madrid made 38 successful long passes but a further 28 attempted long passes were unsuccessful.

Madrid seemed to be troubled by the intensity of the Sevilla play and the starting line up could be questioned. With the oft quoted “FIFA Virus” brought into vogue following the international break, should Mourinho have rotated the team?

Di Maria and Ozil looked well off the pace. Of course, when it comes to rotation, Mourinho is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Rotate the team and suffer defeat and he would have been lambasted for not selecting his strongest team.

Despite Sevilla adopting a relatively high offside line, Madrid seldom tested this with forward runs and through balls were in short supply:-

Real Madrid Through Balls vs Sevilla                         

Xabi Alonso

The Sevilla midfield pairing of Trochoski, but principally Rakitic, worked extremely hard to close Xabi Alonso down and prevent him from constructing play from Madrid.

Teams in the past have demonstrated that Madrid are much less of an attacking threat if you can reduce the effectiveness of Alonso. It’s the Basque playmaker who knits the play together for Madrid. Without him, the team can sometimes appear broken, split into a defensive and an offensive unit. Alonso binds them together. It’s the main reason that firstly Sahin and now Modric was acquired. To provide an alternative to Alonso whom Madrid rely heavily upon and reduce his burden.

Xabi Alonso Passes vs Sevilla                                      

Alonso was operating deep and made only 72 passes during the game. With the central area of the pitch clogged by Sevilla, Alonso was forced to go wide with his passing. HIs lack of mobility is also an issue and whilst his defensive performance was still sound, he could not instigate sufficient levels of creative play for Madrid.


Mourinho made two substitutions at half time with the removal of the ineffective Di Maria and Ozil, replaced by Benzema and Modric.

The introduction of Modric saw Madrid revert to a 4-3-3 with a midfield trio of Alonso, Khedira and Modric. This should have provided Madrid with the strength and craft to meet and surpass the challenge from Sevilla. For a brief spell after half time, Modric was making passes and linking play well but it soon fell away.

Modric Passes vs Sevilla                                                   

Similar to Alonso above, too much of Modric’s work was in relatively deep areas and not in an advanced area of the pitch. When Rakitic was replaced with Manu, the space Modric was enjoying as his fellow Croatian tired, was removed.

Michel made three substitutions in the second half, all of which were reactionary to those made by his opposite number.

Michel’s first substitution saw Manu come on for the tiring, and already cautioned, Rakitic to fulfil the same role – pack the centre of the pitch and disrupt Madrid.

Mourinho made his final substitution in the 65th minute when Arbeloa was withdrawn and Callejon entered. This switch required Khedira to become an auxiliary right back and Callejon playing on the right wing. Mourinho would have been comfortable with such a move given that Trochowski had operated so centrally during the game and Sevilla had offered little attacking threat from the left.

Michel made yet another reactive substitution to counter this just 4 minutes later. Negredo was replaced by the left sided defender Luna. Manu now occupied the striking berth with Trochowski in the centre and Luna moved across to the left to provide support for Navarro against Callejon.

Sevilla’s final change was the replacement of Trochowski with Kondogbia in the 81st minute as Michel took the “what we have, we hold” approach, strengthening the centre of the pitch in anticipation of one last push from Madrid which never quite materialised.

Mourinho’s Criticism

Following the game, Jose Mourinho was scathing in his post match criticism of the side.

In response to the poor first half showing, Mourinho confirmed he “only changed two early in the game” but wanted to “change seven”

Perhaps what will concern the Madrid faithful more than anything is his assertion that:-

“What worries me most is that right now … I don’t have a team”

Yet whilst Mourinho was highly critical, he did not exclude himself from that noting that there was “not a lot of players with their heads in their work, that’s my fault”

With an important Champions League game against Man City in midweek, Madrid need to bounce back quickly to prevent the poor form descending into a crisis.


A well deserved victory for Sevilla as they stop a run of seven consecutive defeats to Madrid in all competitions and secure their first league victory since a 2-1 success in October 2009. They retain their undefeated record in the league but the commitment and workrate shown by his players will arguably be the most pleasing aspect for Michel. There are signs that Sevilla are once more moving in the correct direction after a few disappointing seasons.

For Madrid, a 17 league game unbeaten run away from home has ended with successive away defeats.

There is not time for the players to sulk as they have an important Champions League tie against Manchester City awaiting. It’s difficult to envisage Madrid playing so poorly once more but there does appear to be a certain lethargy about the squad. Should this persist, it may raise questions about the pre-season tour in the USA.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid – Three Short Observations


Real Madrid adopted a very deep and defensive approach for the first half and began the second half in a similar fashion. Madrid were content to drop off Barcelona and only press when Barcelona crossed the halfway line. In many respects it was a typical first half Barcelona performance as they dominated possession (70%) but ultimately lacked penetration. Madrid offered a threat on the counter attack but this waned as the first half progressed.

It was noticeable that in the opening minutes, neither Barcelona full back pushed forward yet once the Madrid shape was recognised, Alves and then Adriano began to move forward and provide overlaps for Sanchez and Pedro respectively.

Mourinho has entered games against Barcelona with a range of tactical strategies to deliver the desired results with just two victories in eleven meetings to date. Recently, when Madrid have attacked Barcelona and pressed them aggressively, Madrid has enjoyed a greater share of possession and favourable results. Last night, this was abandoned in favour of a defensive minded strategy.

Which inevitably begs the question of why did Mourinho choose such a defensive set-up last night?

Firstly, given it was a two legged tie, Mourinho would have wanted to keep things as tight as possible early on. In the first leg of the Champions League semi final in April 2011, Real Madrid were very defensive, only conceding to Barcelona late on following the dismissal of Pepe. Afterwards, Mourinho claimed the strategy was to attack Barcelona in the last thirty minutes of the game with attacking substitutes. A ploy which was denied when Madrid had been reduced to 10 men.

It seems reasonable to suggest that Madrid trying to replicate this last night.

Despite being level at 1-1, Madrid were more aggressive after the hour mark. With the scores level and the away goal secured, Madrid were operating from a position of strength yet the game became increasingly stretched which provided Barcelona with more space to attack and seek openings. Benzema and the anonymous Callejon were replaced by Higuain and Di Maria in the 60th and 65th minute as Madrid injected fresh impetus into their attack as they began to tire.

With the tie delicately poised, it will be fascinating to see how Mourinho approaches the second leg.



A fine start to the season for Pedro has seen the Canary Islander score two goals in the opening two games suggesting a return to form and fitness.

Last season was something of a disappointment for Pedro both collectively and individually. The season was disrupted through injury and a loss of form. Despite making 48 appearances, Pedro started in only 32 of them and was often substituted himself. As the season drew to a conclusion, Pedro offered glimpses that he was rediscovering form particularly in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.

Now, fully fit and on form, Pedro offers Barcelona a significant goal threat from the wide area reducing the reliance upon Messi.

His goal last night encapsulated the best of his qualities, playing off the shoulder of the deepest defender and accelerating away to collect a through pass before slotting the ball home.

Yet to only consider the attacking qualities that Pedro brings to the side would be a considerable injustice. Although not the greatest technician within the Barcelona side, Pedro understands the role that he is expected to perform perfectly. He combines his attacking role by undertaking the defensive aspects diligently. His pace is essential in closing down defenders and pressing high up the pitch providing the first line of defence.


Victor Valdes

The outcome of the entire tie could hinge upon the events of the 84th minute last night. Casillas saved from Messi and Pique, on yet another foray forward, was unable to make contact and force home the 4th goal for Barcelona . Madrid , who were dangerous throughout on the transition, launched a counter attack which petered out when the ball was played back to Valdes in the Barcelona goal. Despite being closed down by Di Maria, Valdes sought another touch on the ball before attempting to dribble beyond Di Maria. The end product was the concession of another goal and the tie, which should have been over, is left hanging in the balance.

After the game Andoni Zubizarreta told reporters: “Mistakes are part of a goalkeeper’s career. Victor has saved us far more goals than he has conceded over the years – I’m sure that after tonight he will go on to have a perfect season.”

Déjà vu?

On 10 December 2011, Valdes mishit a pass at the Santiago Bernabeu after just 22 seconds which resulted in Benzema giving Real Madrid the lead. Yet Valdes continued to hit short passes for the duration of the game. Afterwards, Guardiola commented that

“The best thing was that Valdes kept on passing the ball after the goal. That showed his strength and the strength of the team,”

Valdes will make more mistakes in the future but don’t expect any change in the way he plays. It’s necessary for Barcelona to possess a goalkeeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and to continue making passes.