Levante vs Real Madrid

At the end of the season, when the prizes are being handed out, there are inevitably a number of moments during the course of the season which, with hindsight, can be considered crucial. These are seldom games marked by technical proficiency or complete domination over an opponent and a large winning margin. Rather, these games are epitomised by displaying other qualities such as character and strength. Qualities traditionally associated with the British game and not those you would normally use in connection with a La Liga game.

Yet those are exactly the qualities which Real Madrid displayed in defeating Levante 2-1. In doing so, Los Blancos recorded Mourinho’s first win at the Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday evening.

How significant a win this was will be decided at the end of the season. What is certain is that had Madrid failed to win, it would most likely have been significant even at this stage of the season. To fall 10points behind Barcelona at this stage would have been a very significant hurdle which may not have been surmountable.

Postponement?

Should this game even have started? There had been torrential rain in Valencia for most of the day and it showed no signs of abating as kick off approached. With the pitch already waterlogged in places, particularly along the Main Stand side, this game should have been postponed. At a time when La Liga is trying to increase it’s appeal and enter into new markets around the globe, is this really the image which the authorities wish to send out?

Some will wrongly claim that the conditions are the same for both sides but such an assertion is based upon a belief that both sides adopt the same style. Clearly a waterlogged pitch will adversely affect a team with a short passing style more than a team with a direct style of play. Both teams must adapt but one side requires a greater shift in philosophy.

An incident early in the first half accurately captured the farce of the event. A Levante attack broke down and Di Maria gained possession on the left and sought to break forward quickly into space. Except that when he ran, the ball stuck in a puddle and as Di Maria adjusted to gather the ball again, he lost his balance and fell over. Levante then took possession again.

Even allowing for the lack of space within the fixture calendar for a rescheduled game, the match should have been postponed. That it went ahead confirmed that this was a night for a particular type of football. A direct approach which meant clearing your lines as quickly as possible by playing the ball forward. In theory, this approach should have suited Levante as it does not differ that substantially from their normal gameplan. Yet it was Madrid who not only adapted but a number of key payers appeared to relish the task in hand.

Madrid Adapt

It was a matter of which side could adapt best to the conditions. This was not a night for attempting to play intricate short passing or to run with the ball and this is clearly borne out by the statistics. Levante completed just 170 passes from 342 attempted (50% completion) whilst Madrid fared a little better with 212 completed passes from 386 attempted (55% completion)

It was a night for showing workrate, strength and above all determination. Qualities which were shown in abundance by two Madrid players; Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso.

The graphics below show the passing of Ramos and Alonso. From 87 passes between them only 11 were played backwards. The rest were primarily long balls being played towards the Levante backline. It was a simple approach but given the conditions it was an essential approach. Ensure that you make few mistakes and try to force your opponent to make mistakes. It was a night for playing the percentages.

Ramos Passes vs Levante                                      http://www.squawka.com

Xabi Alonso Passes vs Levante                             http://www.squawka.com

The number of long balls which both attempted was both defensive and attacking. Firstly, it cleared Madrid lines and secondly, it placed pressure on Levante.

There was also a degree of margin for error with long passes given that whilst some would normally overrun, on such a saturated pitch, many were stopping abruptly and remaining in play.

By placing the ball in the Levante half of the pitch more often, there was also a greater likelihood of Levante conceding fouls, something which they did in abundance.

Levante Defending

Levante have built their success in La Liga upon having a strong defensive unit. Primarily a counter attacking side, they have one of the lowest average possession figures in the division and are also a very direct and physical side. As discussed earlier, they should have, in theory, been able to adjust better to the conditions.

Their last two games have seen Levante gain 0-0 draws away from home when attacking intent was limited. To follow such an approach, the team must defend as a unit and especially at set pieces. Yet on Sunday evening, Levante seemed unable to defend set pieces effectively.

Madrid scored both their goals from free kicks. Leaving aside the defensive issues temporarily, Levante were placing themselves in considerable difficulty due to the number of fouls they were conceding. The graphic below demonstrates this. Levante gave away 27 fouls compared to Madrid ‘s 13.

Levante Fouls For and Against                           http://www.squawka.com

The opening goal arrived when David Navarro dropped deep at a free kick and played three Madrid players onside whilst his team mates held the defensive line at the edge of the penalty area. The ball broke to Ronaldo who displayed fantastic technical ability to control the ball on his thigh before volleying home. Beyond the skill, the goal showcased superb awareness. If the ball had dropped onto the ground, it would most likely have stuck in the water and the chance would have gone.

The winning goal in the 83rd minute was sub Morata’s first touch. Again Levante failed to deal with a free kick and Morata was free to nod home from close range with no marker.

Between these goals, Pepe and Ramos both hit the bar following corners as Levante struggled badly defensively.

 

Last season whilst Barcelona chased Madrid they travelled to Pamplona to face Osasuna on a treacherous pitch which was frozen over. Barcelona failed to adapt to the conditions and lost 3-2. Madrid successfully navigated a similarly awkward fixture on Sunday. This was not the sort of game which can win you a title but it was the sort of game which can certainly cost you the title.

All graphics and statistics taken from www.squawka.com

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The Magnificent Seven

European Championship Winner 2008

World Cup Winners 2010

European Championship Winner 2012?

Iker Casillas

Sergio Ramos

Xabi Alonso

Xavi Hernandez

Andres Iniesta

Cesc Fabregas

Fernando Torres