Real Madrid vs Sevilla

Real Madrid bounced back from their surprise defeat away to Granada last weekend with an emphatic 4-1 home win over an insipid Sevilla side. Whether Mourinho would have preferred a more testing game prior to the Champions League clash with Man Utd is a worthwhile consideration.

Mourinho made a number of changes to the side ahead of the European encounter with Man Utd. Alonso and Varane were rested as they continue to nurse minor injuries. Ozil and Khedira were on the bench providing a rare start for Kaka ahead of a midfield pairing of Essien and Modric.

This should have been a challenge for Madrid. With one eye on the Man Utd game and with the league effectively gone, this would be Sevilla’s chance to complete a league double. Instead, the Andalusian’s failed to grasp that opportunity. Theirs was an insipid performance, defending meekly and offering little in attack.

Questions persist for Madrid around midfield where Essien looks limited with his poor mobility being a problem. Modric, meanwhile, is still unable to grasp a game and dictate it. It’s why on Wednesday evening Alonso, Khedira and Ozil will all start for los blancos.

The opening goal from Benzema saw Coke and Fazio appeal for offside with Navarro and Spahic both in deeper positions behind them. A low cross ricocheted off Navarro leaving Benzema with a tap in. Fazio produced a piece of awful defending to enable Ronaldo to score their third goal, allowing the ball to bounce and then pass him.

The concession of poor goals hindering them, Manu’s fine late goal was of scant consolation.

Despite the importance of the game midweek, Ronaldo was not rested. There was something inevitable about his performance, a reminder of his importance to the team.

Ronaldo Produces Again

Is there anything left to say about Ronaldo? His only misfortune is to operate in the same era as Leo Messi otherwise he would surely be considered the best player in the world on a regular basis.

At a time when Madrid are not playing at their best and their team performances have been patchy, Ronaldo remains a constant thorn to opponents, his ability to create chances from virtually nothing.

Ronaldo Shots vs Sevilla

Ronaldo Shots vs Sevilla                            http://www.squawka.com

The Portuguese secured his 20th hat trick for los blancos, his third against Sevilla. The graphic above shows his skill in producing shots from a host of positions. Provide him with space from a distance of up to 30 yards, and he will shoot at goal.

His opening goal was a superb long range strike from the corner of the penalty area. Maduro offered a lamentable attempt at a tackle which Ronaldo sidestepped easily before curling the ball into the far corner of the net.

His second goal owed much to the comical defending of Fazio to help create the chance before Ronaldo finished well.

The final goal was the obligatory counter attack. No Madrid game seems complete without an opponent conceding a goal from a lighting quick counter attack. It arrived in the 58th minute when Kaka conceded a foul in the left back area. The resultant free kick was whipped in but quickly cleared with Ronaldo collecting possession on the edge of the penalty area. Nine seconds later, he had his hat trick and Madrid’s fourth goal.

This quality to turn your opponents strength into their weakness during transitions has always been a key feature of Mourinho’s teams but none have managed to perfect it like Madrid. It enables Madrid to sit deep and defend, playing in quite a one dimensional fashion at times, reliant upon the attack led by Ronaldo to deliver.

The Madrid faithful were able to rest easily when Ronaldo departed after 62 minutes, free from injury and his work, and his side’s, complete.

Kaka

The Brazilian enjoyed a rare start and took advantage with a solid display marked not only by his attacking craft but also a willingness to undertake defensive duties.

Kaka made 26 successful passes from his 29 attempted but his tackling statistics were just as impressive with four successful tackles from five attempted tackles across the whole pitch.

Kaka Tackles vs Sevilla

Kaka Tackles vs Sevilla                                 http://www.squawka.com

Kaka displayed his desire to complete defensive work when he tracked and fouled Jesus Navas deep on the Madrid left earning himself a caution in the process.

Whilst he will never be a starter under Mourinho and most likely requires to move elsewhere to kickstart his faltering career,this performance showed that he still has much to offer and contribute to a team. On Wednesday night, Kaka will return to the bench for Madrid.

Sevilla Midfield – Geoffrey Kondogbia

With Rakitic suspended due to his appeal failing, Emery was forced to turn to Reyes on the left of the midfield. The Croatian has provided a key element for Sevilla this season offering support to the attack and tucking into the midfield as necessary to solidify the team. For Reyes, the former Arsenal player produced a performance similar to those that have blighted his career. He offered little going forward whilst providing scant defensive cover for Navarro behind him. His performance was a contrast to that of Navas on the right. The winger offered Sevilla their main attacking outlet whilst displaying a willingness to track back and provide defensive cover.

One of the few other positive performances from a Sevilla perspective was that of Kondogbia. Whilst not his best game by some distance, the 19 year old Frenchman provided further proof of his growing reputation with a solid game.

With his power and physique, Kondogbia is fast becoming an important asset for the Sevilla midfield. Having arrived from Lens in France, comparisons with a previous central midfielder acquired from the French side are inevitable; Seydou Keita. And there is reason for the comparisons as Kondogbia is showing signs of maturing into a fine central midfielder. Despite only making one successful tackle and one successful interception, his ability to drive forward with the ball was in evidence particularly in the central area of the pitch.

Kondogbia Take Ons vs Real Madrid

Kondogbia Take Ons vs Real Madrid      http://www.squawka.com

As Kondogbia develops both physically and mentally, his role within the team is likely to develop. At the moment, he is often substituted in the second half as he fades and he left the Bernabeu after 77 minutes.

Conclusions

Madrid have now gone 33 home games without defeat in all competitions, their last defeat at home being to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi final last season. It’s a record which they will need to ensure remains intact midweek when they welcome Man Utd to the Bernabeu in the Champions League.

The recent improvement in form for Sevilla under Emery ends with a thud. With two wins and one draw in his three Liga games to date, Sevilla should have arrived in Madrid with confidence but they surrendered meekly. Sevilla now have recorded just one away win in La Liga from 12 attempts this season. If they wish to move away from mid table, it’s an area which they have to address quickly. The manner of the defeat will concern Emery with individual errors in addition to collective errors. For a manager who prides himself upon the strength of the unit, that will disappoint Emery.

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Week 21 Observations – Anything You Can Do…

Another week in La Liga brings another routine victory for each of the big two and yet more scoring exploits from their two main protagonists seemingly locked into a constant game of “Anything you can do, I can do better”.

Real Madrid began the day with a 4-0 victory over Getafe with Ronaldo scoring a hat trick. His goal scoring feat was later surpassed when Messi helped himself to four goals during a 5-1 demolition of Osasuna.

Both benefitted from decisions that were favourable at key points in the game.

Real Madrid 4 Getafe  0

Luis Garcia’s Getafe side have now gone nine games in all competitions without a win. With games against Deportivo, Celta Vigo and Mallorca coming up, El Geta must pick up points to prevent the slide down the table taking them dangerously close to the relegation zone.

Madrid finds its self in something of a quandary. Trailing Barcelona by 15 points in the league, their title is all but lost with nearly half the season remaining. Motivation becomes an issue for the squad as their focus shifts towards the two remaining prizes which they can win; the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. It’s not that simple though. Mediocre league form cannot be transformed overnight to a level sufficient to win the real prize, la decima. It’s an issue that the team as a whole need to address.

The first half was almost instantly forgettable. Getafe hinted at offering something in attack, particularly on quick transitions with Essien not being the most mobile and Modric caught further upfield. Without Khedira or Alonso starting, the midfield looked weak and demonstrated both players worth to the side. The visitors played some neat football but Adan in goal was never properly tested by the sporadic Getafe attacks.

The game changed in the second half with the opening goal being controversial. Whilst it is clear that Carvalho’s arm caught Moya in goal, the keeper really should have done better than to drop the ball enabling Ramos to poke home the opener. Having sad that, it was a foul.

Getafe were then complicit in their own downfall to an extent. Following a corner, Khedira won the ball in his own penalty area and 12 seconds later Ronaldo scored. Castro then conceded possession at the halfway line and 9 seconds later Ronaldo scoed his second and the sides third. There was no patient build up play. Instead, Madrid ruthlessly took advantage of their opponents weakness during a transitional phase. With Madrid, your corner kick is their attacking opportunity.

The final goal followed the award of a penalty which could possibly be called soft but the challenge on Modric was still foolish. The Madrid move was instigated by Moya needlessly attempting a quick throw out which was easily intercepted and fed back into the penalty area.

A harsh 4-0 defeat for a Getafe side who contributed to their own downfall after a first half performance which offered a degree of optimism. Their compact shape and sound defending undone by both individual and collective errors.

Three clean sheets in a row in the league now for Madrid  following a poor run in the preceding four games when they conceded 10 league goals. If the performances, with the exception of the Valencia game, in the league have been inconsistent, Mourinho will at least be content with the clinical nature of the attack just now with nine goals in two games.

 

Barcelona 5 Osasuna 1

Jose Luis Mendilibar took his Osasuna side to the Camp Nou, scene of their 8-0 humbling last season, on Sunday evening. This time around, maybe things would be different. Osasuna arrived with the 4th best defence in La Liga and goalkeeper Andres Fernandez sitting second in the Zamora.  The defensive solidity masks attacking problems that has seen Osasuna fall into the relegation zone with the worst goalscoring record in La Liga.

Real Sociedad had demonstrated a workrate allied to ability to beat Barcelona 3-2 at the Anoeta last week and Osasuna would adopt the same ethic by pressing Barcelona early to stop them building from the back. The high defensive line also pushed Barcelona back and made them begin constructing moves much deeper than they would prefer. Mendilibar had spoken prior to the game about Osasuna playing the way they “normally do” in reference to the lack of a clear plan by any team to defeat Barcelona.

The issue for Mendilibar is that high pressing is not matched with short passing to retain possession when they win the ball back. Osasuna prefer a very direct and vertical style of play. They lack the technical quality of La Real.  With that in mind, Mendilibar opted to start with Joseba Llorente as the central striker. Llorente does not offer the greatest level of mobility but he is able compete aerially and offer a central reference point for the team, something that the style of play dictates.

The normal high defensive line and aggressive pressing from a Mendilibar team was identifiable as Osasuna pushed Barcelona back in the opening minutes, recording more possession than their illustrious hosts in the opening minutes of the game. The warning signs were evident for Osasuna however. With a high press, the team tried to stay fairly narrow. There was ample space between the high defensive line and Fernandez in goal to exploit. Thiago failed to collect a pass early on but a David Villa run onto a through ball led to Fernandez coming off his line. The keeper’s clearance was poor but when Xavi collected the ball there was no immediate danger. There was no shot on goal for the diminutive midfielder and Fernandez recovered his position. Xavi was able to beat his opponent and weight a perfect ball to Messi to open the scoring. Many players would have attempted an audacious shot in such circumstances and wasted the opportunity.

Osasuna continued to push high, seeking to impose their style of play on the game and also aware that adopting a defensive gameplan would most likely be their undoing. An equaliser came via a long range effort from Loe. Barcelona failed to adequately clear their lines and the Frenchman moved onto the ball freely.

Any semblance of hope which arrived with the equaliser was soon removed with the award of a harsh penalty for handball against Arribas. A second yellow card was given to the defender and the 10 men would soon trail 2-1 when Messi scored from the spot. The game ended as a contest just before half time when Dani Alves made a forward run to receive a pass, cutting back for Pedro to score. Alves was offside when the pass was made but it was a ball that Barcelona were increasingly looking for.

The second half focussed on damage limitation with Messi scoring two further goals as Barcelona cantered to a 5-1 victory. As important as that was the opportunity to remove Xavi from the action after 66 mins and provide him with much needed rest ahead of a key period in the season starting with the first leg clasico in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday evening.

Two victories ahead of Wednesday’s meeting at the Bernabeu. With injuries and suspensions, it may well be a patched up Madrid side that takes the field. Both sides will need to lift their game if they wish to gain a first leg advantage.

 

Valencia vs Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis

Real Madrid travelled to the Mestalla to face a revitalised Valencia side under the leadership of Ernesto Valverde. Since taking charge of Los Che, Valverde has won seven of his nine games in all competitions. A 2-0 defeat away to Los Blancos in the Copa del Rey in midweek did not dampen enthusiasm before kick off that Valencia could win this game such was the quality at times during their recent encounter. What they would not have expected was to see a first half performance from Madrid which was clinical, professional and utterly ruthless. A reminder of the devastating power which the club from the capital possess on the counter attack which resulted in Valencia suffering their heaviest ever loss to Madrid at home.

Line Ups

There were three changes to the side which had defeated Sevilla 2-0. Albelda was injured whilst Pereira and Parejo were suspended. Ruiz, Gago and Tino Costa came back into the side.

Valencia Starting Line Up

Valencia Starting Line Up

The surprise was the inclusion of Ricardo Costa being played out of position at right back. Barragan remained on the bench.

Mourinho named the strongest eleven available to him with Higuain favoured in place of Benzema in attack.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Modric and Callejon made way for the returning due of Ozil and Ronaldo after the disappointment of the goalless draw in Pamplona.

First Half

A game which began fast with Valencia seeking to impose their style of play on Madrid soon descended into a nightmare for the home side as Madrid picked them off on the counter attack.

The patience shown a few days earlier at the Bernabeu was replaced by a frenetic style from Los Che perhaps determined to show they could compete.It was an ill advised strategy. By increasing the tempo of their game and lacking composure, Madrid were content to sit deep and pounce forward, the opening goal being a prime example.

As is so often the case, Madrid are most dangerous when you attack. Ozil evaded Banega on the edge of the penalty area and 13 seconds later Higuain scored. The confusion in the Valencia defence evident with Gago appealing for offside with Guardado a few yards deeper than him.

Three of Madrid’s goals originated down the Valencia right where Costa was clearly uncomfortable. Ronaldo played a neat one two with Ozil and burst beyond Costa before eventually cutting back for Di Maria whilst the third goal was farcical from Valencia’s perspective. Both Costa and Rami diving in at the halfway line whilst Ruiz and Guardado were over five yards deeper on the other side of defence.

The high line and a lack of coherent pressure on the ball provided the script for a seamless display of attacking prowess from Madrid. Madrid also pressed Valencia very quickly. Valverde demands the play to be built from the back but Valencia do not yet have the players to do so properly. Too often Valencia were robbed in possession. With the game won, Madrid then eased off.

Positions

The graphic below shows the player positions during the game with Valencia in blue and Real Madrid in red.

Valencia vs Real Madrid - Player Positions

Valencia vs Real Madrid – Player Positions                         http://www.whoscored.com

Although at right back, Costa is the deepest Valencia player with Rami positioned very close to him. Guardado meanwhile is beyond the halfway line but isolated by the narrow position of Jonas who should have been on the left wing.

Gago is also positioned too far to the right with Costa and Banega stationed very high. The team is fairly compact as Valverde would want but it’s unbalanced. The high line is not supported by pressure on the Madrid midfield. Banega and Tino Costa are too high probably in an effort to support Soldado.

The defensive set up was uneasy throughout the match and Madrid exploited the uncertainty ruthlessly.

For Madrid the position of Ozil is crucial, practically level with Higuain and beyond Gago. From the outset Ozil was operating between the lines and this was a key factor in Madrid ’s fifth goal. He is already beyond Gago when he collects Albiol’s header forward.

Madrid Attack

Despite the scoreline, Valencia actually had more shots at goal than their opponents again demonstrating that as useful as statistics are, they need to be investigated a little more closely.

Madrid had 13 shots at goal of which seven on target, scoring five goals. Valencia had 20 shots at goal but many were speculative and long range. Just three were on target with Piatti also hitting the crossbar.

The graphic below shows all of Madrid ’s shots on target.

Real Madrid Shots on Target vs Valencia

Real Madrid Shots on Target vs Valencia         http://www.squawka.com

With the exception of Ronaldo’s first goal, all of Madrid ’s shots were within the penalty area and very central. They were incredibly efficient in front of goal.

With fewer shots at goal than their opponent, Madrid also had less possession as they continue to resort to a predominantly counter attacking style of play.

Di Maria made 34 passes from 47 passes attempted, more than anyone else in the Madrid team. His return to top form was marked by two attempts on goal and two goals coupled with an assist for Higuain.

Clash of Styles

Since the arrival of Mourinho, Madrid have developed a counter attack which is arguably more potent than any other side in world football. From the first season position whereby the Madrid team appeared to be two units held together by Xabi Alonso and reliant upon individuals, they moved forward to last season’s Championship winning side when the unit functioned well as a whole.

This season, they appeared to have regressed towards that first season model again. They seek to sit deep and break quickly, utilising their pace on the flanks. Play is seldom constructed thoughtfully partially explaining the problem that Modric has faced in adapting. They have become direct and rely upon moments of individual brilliance to overcome opponents. Last night provided further evidence of this but also provided a glimpse of how this simple style can take the opposition apart.

Madrid completed just 225 passes from 315 attempted giving 71% accuracy. They saw less of the ball but when they had possession, they used it much more effectively. Previously, Xabi Alonso would be at the heart of Madrid ’s play yet last night produced a fairly subdued performance.

Alonso 22 passes completed from 30 attempted in his 57minutes on the pitch as the graphic below illustrates.

Alonso Passes vs Valencia

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

Contrast this with Ever Banega who Valencia tried to get on the ball as often as possible to create. For comparison with Alonso, Banega completed 31 passes from 35 attempted (89% completion rate) in the first 60 minutes. In the 90 minutes as a whole he completed 51 passes from 61 attempted.

Ever Banega Passes vs Real Madrid

Ever Banega Passes vs Real Madrid                     http://www.squawka.com

Yet despite all the volume of passing and the fact that Banega made five key passes, there was no end product for Valencia . As at the Bernabeu they were capable of weaving pretty passes across the pitch with no punch.

Ozil Heat Map vs Valencia

Ozil Heat Map vs Valencia                                     http://www.squawka.com

Mesut Ozil floated around the pitch operating between the Valencia defensive and midfield line creating problems despite making minimal passes. Ozil made two assists with his team mates in an excellent performance.

Often ignored amongst elite sides is the workrate. Too often the less attractive side of the game is overlooked but Madrid were highly competitive last night. Valencia won 9 tackles form 10 attempted yet compare this against Madrid who won 20 tackles from 24 attempted. Madrid were ready to compete on the physical side of the game. Just as at Levante when they had to become competitive, Madrid were ready to stand up to the challenge.

Valencia Right

As good as Madrid were in the first half, it’s impossible to consider their performance without commenting on the poor defensive performance from Valencia especially on the right side of their defence.

The decision to play Costa at right back ahead of Barragan was, in hindsight, probably a mistake if only for the most natural balance that Barragan would have brought to the side defensively. With Guardado continuing at left back and prone to positional mistakes, the side badly misses Mathieu.

Madrid committed 13 fouls in the game with only two fouls occurring on their left side. Valencia were too reliant upon their left side with Guardado, Jonas and Tino Costa all leaning towards that area.

Real Madrid Fouls Committed vs Valencia

Real Madrid Fouls Committed vs Valencia            http://www.squawka.com

The graphic highlights one other issue. Madrid were extremely good at not conceding fouls in and around their penalty area. Only two of the above fouls could really lead to balls being whipped into the penalty area. The remaining fouls were committed too far away.

Second Half

Valverde made one change at half time with Barragan replacing Fernando Gago. With Barragan moving into right back, Ricardo Costa went into central defence and Victor Ruiz was pushed forward into a defensive midfield position.

The key concern for Valverde would have been to avoid a real hammering which was a realistic possibility at half time.

The move solidified Valencia and they created a number of decent openings with Piatti striking the cross bar from just outside the area. Madrid though, had stepped down a level by this point and the game game drifted towards it’s inevitable conclusion.

Conclusions

There is much for Valverde to ponder over prior to Madrid returning to the Mestalla for the second leg of their Copa del Rey tie this midweek. The tactician now has a decision. Does he believe that his side can go out and impose themselves upon Madrid to attempt to recover the tie or does he become more cautious, drop the defence deeper and play a conservative game as a consequence?

Was it really the high line which was the downfall of Valencia ? Osasuna played a similarly high line recently and secured a draw.

With Madrid increasingly using the counter attack again, a deeper defence could allow Valencia to control possession and the game but the problem then remains of how to support Soldado in attack.

For Madrid, at least Mourinho knows that his side are still capable of producing a high performance level even if he has seldom witnessed it this season. The pace and power of their attack was superb at times and will certainly deliver a welcome boost for the team particularly when they have often struggled away from home this season.

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                                         http://www.squawka.com

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes                                            http://www.squawka.com

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     http://www.squawka.com

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          http://www.squawka.com

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                                                  http://www.squawka.com

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.

Conclusions

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 http://www.squawka.com

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

The Rain in Spain

Ronaldo and Navarro Challenge for the Ball                                          http://www.Realmadrid.com