La Liga 2018/19: Alaves vs Real Madrid
This tactical analysis of Real Madrid’s crisis inducing defeat to Alaves originally featured on our network site realmadridanalysis.com – the home for all things tactical, match, player, coach and recruitment analysis on Los Blancos
Real Madrid’s catastrophic form has continued heading into the international break, leading to speculation surrounding Julen Lopetegui’s future after Alaves consigned them to four games without a win or a goal thanks to a 1-0 home victory over the reigning European champions. The record leaves only French side FC Dijon enduring a longer goal drought, but it was Alaves captain’s Manu Garcia who delivered the real hammer blow with an injury-time header which sparked wild scenes at Estadio Mendizorroza. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify where Real Madrid failed to correct the errors they made against CSKA Moscow, Atletico Madrid or Sevilla in their desire to register a first La Liga win since the 1-0 victory over Espanyol.
No one Real Madrid player is to blame for the lack of goals
Fans love a scapegoat. When times are tough, such as in an almost seven-hour-long goal drought, it’s easy to look for one single name to point to. For Los Blancos though, it is hard to identify any one such player who can be given the blame, even after the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo. Rather, it is the system and the poor form of several key figures which is failing Real Madrid and leading to their incredible goal drought.
With just 1.12 xG across the game, Mariano Diaz was the only player to have a single attempt which was rated at more than 0.2 xG, with a chance which started with Sergio Ramos stepping out from the back and looking to launch a long ball over the top out wide whilst the midfield sat deep around him. It is a far cry from the polar opposite free-flowing football which was on show in the thrilling win over Roma not so long ago.
In midfield, the poor form is clear. In 2017/18, Luka Modric averaged 0.16 xA (expected assists), yet, he hasn’t reached such a figure even once in any competition, La Liga or otherwise, in 2018/19. Toni Kroos has seen his average drop too, from 0.19 xA to 0.11, whilst even Dani Ceballos’ figure has dropped from 0.15 to 0.12. Ceballos was the only one to achieve any kind of xA at Mendizorroza, in a game in which the Real Madrid midfield completed only 25 passes in the final third.
Courtois’ first mistake re-opens the goalkeeping debate
Until now, Thibaut Courtois had done little to earn his spot in the Real Madrid team beyond being the expensive summer signing. Having displaced Keylor Navas though, he has done his job well. With no mistakes, a few smart saves, particularly in the Madrid derby, Madridistas were happy to watch the Belgian in between the sticks, even if it did come at the price of the loyal Costa Rican’s place in the team.
After defeat to Alaves though, that could change. The former Chelsea man was caught in no man’s land at the decisive corner, being dragged way too far from his line towards the back post in a way which meant he was immediately caught out by Ruben Sobrino’s header back towards goal and could only just about tip it onto Manu Garcia’s onrushing head practically on the goal line.
In fairness to Courtois, who hardly covered himself in glory, the defensive marking was woeful. There were eight men in white in the Real Madrid box, yet by the time Sobrino got to the ball, he was the only man under pressure. Switching off in such a way is the kind of amateur mistake that would be disappointing for even the most average of top-flight La Liga sides, let alone Real Madrid.
Injuries are taking their toll
With Dani Carvajal, Isco Alcorcon and Marcelo already sidelined by injury going into the game, it’s fair to say that Julen Lopetegui can feel a little shortchanged in terms of luck. Yet it would only get worse, with both Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale reportedly being forced off by injury, rather than tactical changes.
Trips to London for award ceremonies, a late night kick-off in Seville, a Madrid derby, a return flight to Moscow and then a visit to one of the league’s most in-form teams has proven to be a demanding fortnight for the Los Blancos squad, and it’s easy to see why. Perhaps these injuries have been inevitable, yet question marks remain. Were Gareth Bale and Dani Carvajal rushed back? Is training helping or hindering these players fight to be fit?
What was perhaps even more concerning was the lack of ideas after the substitutions. Every injury led to a new change and a new period of adaptation as the players got used to the alternatives, whether it was Mariano Diaz or Vinicius Junior. Each time, huge gaps were left vastly empty and unexploited with players repeatedly treading on each other’s toes in small spaces.
Lopetegui has no clear plan B
With every passing game, it becomes more and more evident that Lopetegui is struggling to find a solution for almost seven hours without a goal. Starting with a 4-4-2 diamond, it was a change from the usual 4-3-3 for Los Blancos. Yet, by the hour mark, it had changed to become a formation which was more akin to a 3-4-3, with full-backs pushing on when the ball was on their side. Neither found anything like a solution, if anything the constant chopping and changing merely served to confuse the Real Madrid players more and lose any momentum that started to be built up.
There were indications that desperation could be making an appearance though, particularly with substitutions as Lopetegui looked to two men who could barely make it off the bench only a few weeks ago. Mariano was given a chance, though it now seems that Lopetegui had no other choice but to do so, whilst Vinicius Junior finds himself in the same situation. Neither did much to impress, though the lack of a backup plan was made even clearer by their introduction as it was evident that there was no clearly defined role for either.
Against Atletico Madrid, fans criticised Julen Lopetegui for not making changes to his team earlier in looking for a winner. On this occasion, changes were made more quickly, but with no thinking or structure behind them. With a prolonged spell on the training ground ahead, Lopetegui must put it to good use if he is to make a success of his time in the Real Madrid dugout.