Last time out in La Liga, Real Madrid looked like world beaters as they saw off Celta Vigo. Confidence was high as the European champions traveled to the Basque Country to face Eibar at Estadio de Ipurua. Instead, it ended in a historic 3-0 defeat, the first time the minnows had ever beaten Real Madrid.
It started poorly right from the off as Kike Garcia rocked the Real woodwork. Sergio Escalante didn’t wait long to break the deadlock just after the quarter of an hour mark. In the second half, there was no improvement either. Marc Cucurella tore the visitors apart, capitalising on an amateurish mistake from Alvaro Odriozola to set up Sergi Enrich. The latter then assisted Kike Garcia to add a third before the hour mark. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid can take from the game as they saw their return to form come to an end.
Gareth Bale is more of a liability than an asset
It all started so well for Gareth Bale. With just five minutes on the clock he fired home with a rasping finish from the edge of the box. Then a pesky linesman intervened to rule it out for offside. VAR confirmed that the decision was correct, but it was the last that anyone saw of the Welshman. His goal threat was non-existent as he mustered just 0.11 xG, his second worst figure of the season. His only worse xG performance came in the thrashing that Los Blancos suffered in El Clasico.
When offering nothing in attack it’s vital that he does his work defensively, but he couldn’t manage that either. Time after time Eibar exploited his lack of tracking back down Real Madrid’s right flank. Barcelona loanee Marc Cucurella took advantage more than anyone else, being involved in all three goals. Just minutes before the opening goal, Eibar burst forward down that flank as they would again to break the deadlock. Jose Angel spotted Bale’s weakness and took advantage.
Santiago Solari refused to withdraw the Welshman despite his woeful display, which saw just three touches inside the opposition box. It is one thing for Bale to be out of form and struggle in front of goal. To not do the very basics and protect his team-mates defensively is something that is simply unforgivable. If he is to have a future at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, he needs to up his game, and soon.
Work ethic is an issue
It was not just the forward who failed to do his job. Certain figures within the squad have long been accused of an arrogance which can come across as laziness. On Saturday it was hard to argue that it wasn’t the case. The first goal was the perfect example how Eibar’s determination and desire far surpassed anything the men in white offered.
Having gone forwards to attack a set piece, both Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos were still in attack. This left the likes of Alvaro Odriozola, Marcelo, Dani Ceballos and Luka Modric to defend. They failed to track their men appropriately, with both Odriozola and Marcelo seemingly caught in two minds as to whether they should close the man on the ball or look out for a runner. Modric and Ceballos showed no urgency in their runs back either. Whether that was down to tiredness or laziness, only they will know.
Comments post-match from Varane, claiming that the sides problems are collective rather than individual, have done little to ease fans who are growing increasingly unhappy with the players in the squad. Whereas Julen Lopetegui was there to shoulder the blame in the past, Santiago Solari now has the job on a full-time, permanent basis. He will not be made a scapegoat, at least for now.
The Casemiro problem could be fatal
Injury to Casemiro has revealed a fundamental weakness in Real Madrid’s squad: there is no alternative to the Brazilian. Acquiescing to Mateo Kovacic’s request to leave for Chelsea in the summer has left the club with few alternatives. Solari has also given in to Toni Kroos’ wish not to be deployed in the holding midfield role. On Saturday it was, unexpectedly, Dani Ceballos’ turn to hold a far more defensive position than he is accustomed to.
In some regards there were positive elements, such as making seven interceptions. It was clear, however, that he is not a solution. In particular, his lack of awareness and experience in being involved in the last line of defence were on show, as Sergio Escalante highlighted as he burst past the former Real Betis man for the opening goal. Such poor positional play is something that is hard to imagine would have come from Casemiro.
If Real Madrid are to be consistently successful in the years to come, building on their European dynasty, they will need an alternative to Casemiro. The Brazilian has been a staple in the team. There has never really been another option to come in and replace him or give him a rest. Of the current squad, Marcos Llorente is the next alternative that Solari may turn to. Neither Zinedine Zidane or Julen Lopetegui saw enough from the youngster to trust him, though.
What’s happened to Raphael Varane?
Champions League winner. World Champion. Balon d’Or contender. One of the best defenders in the world, if not the number one. That was Raphael Varane earlier on in 2018. Now, he looks like a rookie defender taking his first steps in top flight football. It’s a change which has cost Real Madrid dearly. The team’s 19 goals conceded so far this season are the highest in over 10 years. What’s more, only five teams (Levante, Celta Vigo, Athletic Club, Huesca and Rayo Vallecano) have conceded more to date. Three of them make up the sides in the relegation zone.
Varane was far from his best for any of the goals, but the third was the weakest of all. A seemingly simple cross should have provided the Frenchman with time and space to step in front and clear the ball easily, but instead he stood planted. With his feet rooted to the floor, Kike Garcia could step across in front of him into the danger area which Varane should have been controlling. That put the game to bed and turned a poor display into a nightmare one.
Many of this Real Madrid side are severely lacking in form but Varane is one of those whose performance levels have plummeted. Whether he is still worn out from the World Cup or not, his positioning, concentration and decision making have been far from the high standards that many have come to expect from him. For now, it is only the lack of alternatives which are seeing him keep his place in the side.
If there was one positive for Real Madrid, it was Thibaut Courtois’ display which kept the score at just three. Solari insisted that he wasn’t sure if it was the worst display of the season. In doing so, though, he was doing injustice to the truth. This was not only Real Madrid’s worst display of the season, but of many recent years. What it really shows is that issues go deeper than simply the man in the dug-out. With Julen Lopetegui now out of the picture, that has become increasingly evident. There can be no more papering over the cracks.
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