Real Madrid welcomed Real Betis to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in a buoyant mood on Saturday evening having seen their arch-rivals Barcelona thrashed by Levante and giving them an opportunity to retake top spot in La Liga.
However, it didn’t work out that way as they played out a frustrating 0-0 draw against Rubi’s side who built on their midweek victory over Celta Vigo with a solid point in the capital, with Eden Hazard’s disallowed strike being the closest the hosts came to making a breakthrough.
Here, this tactical analysis considers the tactics of both Real Madrid and Real Betis. The analysis of the La Liga sides shows what Zinedine Zidane and Rubi can take from the game, including some interesting tactical elements.
Zidane sprung just one real surprise with his selection as Ferland Mendy was preferred to Marcelo at left-back, though Luka Modrić also replaced Federico Valverde and Rodrygo Goes retained his spot in attack ahead of the fit-again Vinícius Junior.
Rubi made more intriguing changes. Lining up with six defenders on the field, he deployed central defender Marc Bartra as a holding midfielder in front of a back five with wing-backs looking to offer greater width. Nabil Fekir took up a more offensive midfield role, operating just behind Loren Morón.
Real Madrid’s lack of cutting edge
For all of the progress that Real Madrid looked to have made against Leganés, scoring five and recording by far their highest xG of the season, they returned to the worst version of themselves on Saturday. Producing very little, Los Blancos were once again disappointing in attack, creating only one effort worth more than 0.15 xG, when Benzema crept around his marker at the far post to poke wide in a difficult chance. This is represented in Real Madrid’s xG map, as can be seen below, reflecting the way in which almost half of Real Madrid’s shots on goal came as speculative efforts from outside the box with others taken from very narrow angles.
The reason for that was primarily down to the lack of movement in attack. Betis had looked to create a solid defensive line which would complicate matters for Real Madrid, as will be considered shortly, but Real Madrid’s attack simply did not do enough. As Zidane has pointed out repeatedly, the intensity is key to ensuring that this side can produce opportunities and it was distinctly lacking, even late on in the game. As Betis were tiring, looking more vulnerable and open, Real Madrid were lacking urgency. As can be seen here, as Dani Carvajal brought the ball forwards, he found only three men ahead of him in white compared to eight in green and white, allowing the defenders plenty of opportunities to mark and press.
Even when Vinícius Junior was brought on, with the sole intention of bringing pace and disruption in attack, he struggled to do so. Making just one progressive run and succeeding with only one of his four attempted dribbles, his lack of quality when it mattered was the perfect summary of Real Madrid’s struggles. When playing with confidence, Real Madrid find it easy to break through teams with a passing game, yet once things are difficult, it is all too common to see their play become turgid and for movement to cease up.
Real Betis finding their feet
Real Betis made history as the first side ever to keep clean sheets in three consecutive La Liga visits to the Bernabéu, recording only their second clean sheet of the season having also produced a shut-out when they faced newly-promoted Osasuna. Against Real Madrid however, this was entirely different, with an intriguing approach which allowed Real Madrid to control the wide areas as Betis flooded the central areas of the pitch.
With four central defenders on the field, it was significant that for large periods of the game, two would operate ahead of the other two, or would drop in as full-backs. This alternated according to the behaviour of the wing-backs, creating a very fluid defensive system which provided greater freedom. The role of Bartra in holding midfield was also an intriguing one, as he effectively was used to follow Benzema almost as a man-to-man marker throughout the game, preventing him from dropping deep to pick up the ball and create spaces in behind. Rubi’s approach was an ultra-defensive one in terms of team selection, but it was highly effective.
This allowed Zidane’s men to put plenty of crosses into the box, reaching a total of 32. Only three times in the past 12 months have Real Madrid put more crosses in, none of them proving to be victories. What’s more, the cross completion rate of just 21% was also Real Madrid’s second-worst return of the season, showing why Betis were happy to allow Real Madrid to dominate those wide areas when their crosses were so ineffective. Of the 32 crosses, only four produced shots, of which only two were on target.
Hazard’s best display yet?
There is still a feeling in Madrid that Hazard is yet to find his feet in a Real Madrid shirt, but in terms of influence and domination of play, Saturday’s fixture was Hazard’s most promising yet. With Benzema not at his best and Rodrygo lost on the occasion, Hazard stepped up to the occasion and produced the goods, frequently looking to take men on and move the ball forwards to create a more offensive threat. No longer showing any sign of the intimidation of the arena, he was not afraid to take men on, as can be seen below as he took on four different players with his dribble from the halfway line to win a free-kick on the edge of the box.
His total of seven progress runs was his highest yet in a Real Madrid shirt for a single game and he almost had a fine goal to his name too, had it not been for a marginal offside call identified by VAR. It’s evident that with each passing game, Hazard is becoming more and more integrated into his new team and it is equally becoming more and more important as Zidane struggles with injuries having hit the likes of Isco, Gareth Bale, James Rodríguez and Vinícius Junior. Hazard has the ideal opportunity to become the team’s leader and he is slowly but surely showing more signs of doing so.
There is still work to be done, given that Hazard failed to record a single shot. Taking up the leadership role in the Real Madrid attack means more than simply transitioning the ball into the final third, but also making an impact with it. With nine touches in the box, among the highest for his team, he should be expected to be getting an effort away or at least setting up someone else to do so, with some of those touches. Hazard is growing more comfortable, but there is still more room for improvement.
Real Madrid have once again reverted to their regular frustrations. In attack, they simply lack the movement and energy needed to disrupt an organised defensive system and regardless of his options on the bench, Zidane has again failed to turn a tie around when it becomes a tactical battle. With Benzema nullified and Rodrygo making little impact, the Frenchman had to react sooner to change things up and add a greater attacking threat from midfield but failed to do so. Equally, Rubi can be proud of the significant improvements his team have made of late, adding defensive solidity and beginning to show signs of a structure which was so absent in the past few weeks. It could be a long season ahead for both teams, but Zidane must learn from dropped points on home turf like this in order to make a success of his campaign.