Real Madrid travelled to Mallorca to face newly promoted RCD Mallorca for the first time since 2011/12 as the hosts battle bravely against the drop, but it was the side who arrived unbeaten in La Liga who would leave empty handed.
Zinedine Zidane’s men went behind early on as Lago Junior capped a superb counter-attack by cutting inside and curling an effort beyond Thibaut Courtois, who has now conceded the same number of goals as saves he has made this season. As Real Madrid grew back into the game late on, dismissal for Álvaro Odriozola proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
That proved to be the only goal in the 1-0 victory for RCD Mallorca, as will be considered in this tactical analysis. The analysis will look at the tactics of Vicente Moreno’s RCD Mallorca and Real Madrid in this La Liga fixture.
With Gareth Bale, Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos all absent through injury, with Eden Hazard missing out due to the birth of his fourth child and Dani Carvajal left out of the matchday squad, this was always going to be a much changed line-up. Fede Valverde was left out in midfield with a 4-4-2 shape selected with Luka Jović picked in attack, with James Rodríguez and Vinicius Junior on the wings and Isco alongside Casemiro in midfield.
Moreno was able to name an unchanged line-up for RCD Mallorca, selecting the same side that beat Espanyol last time out before the international break.
A failed midfield set-up
Injuries and Valverde’s late return from international duty with Uruguay meant that Zidane had few options to choose from in the middle of the park. It was perhaps unexpected that he opted to line up with a four man midfield, perhaps looking to provide greater protection than could be offered by having Isco and James alongside each other in a midfield three. Casemiro remained at the base as always, but the other three alternated to form a midfield diamond, with Isco occasionally dropping deeper to form a double pivot with Casemiro when under pressure.
It was clear though that the set-up was not working. With three players in the diamond with little defensive awareness, Mallorca found it easy to exploit the spaces that they would leave in between them, as can be seen in the below example. The more offensive minded players would be looking to keep open their running channels to break on the counter should possession be turned over, leaving a huge responsibility for Casemiro. When identified by Moreno, Ante Budimir, Junior and Dani Rodríguez would all drop deep into those spaces to overwhelm the Brazilian holding midfielder.
Zidane did not resort to the obvious solution of Valverde until after the hour mark, when it was too little, too late. The Uruguayan brought balance into the middle of the park and added greater stability, but it came just as Real Madrid needed to find a way to be more clinical. By replacing Jović it marked a change in system to the more typical 4-3-3 with James in the more advanced role of a midfield three, and Real Madrid looked far more comfortable and in control. It may have been a choice that Zidane felt he had to make, but it meant sacrificing one fixture in favour of Tuesday’s crucial Champions League tie.
Mallorca found space expertly
This was a fundamental factor in how Mallorca exploited the space that Real Madrid left in behind them. Another aspect here was Real Madrid’s ineffective high press, which was particularly prevalent early on in the game and was actually decisive in the build-up to the winning goal for Mallorca. Time after time, Real Madrid would commit too many players to the press, as is evident in the image below where four players, two midfielders and both forwards, all press a defender on the edge of his own box.
However, a lack of precision meant that Mallorca could easily play their way out of the press and when they did so, they found that there were six Real Madrid players within 20 yards of each other in a narrow channel, leaving a huge amount of space should they find the space to switch flanks. That was exactly what happened and Aleix Febas’ cross ball pass found Junior who went on to find the back of the net.
It is not the first time that Real Madrid have played such an ineffective press in La Liga this season but Zidane persists with it. With such significant personnel changes, it is difficult to implement such a tactic effectively, but it will concern the coach that a team like Mallorca were able to exploit the weakness. Against superior opposition, it could have been far more than one goal conceded by Real Madrid’s poor co-ordination in looking to press high up the field.
Real Madrid’s big hope in attack this season was the signing of Jović but the Serbian once again struggled when given the opportunity against RCD Mallorca. Selected to partner Benzema in attack, it was only his third start for the club and one in which he was playing in a system more akin to what he was used to at Borussia Mönchengladbach last season, which could have seen him look more comfortable. It was not the case though, as the striker recorded only four successful actions in the final third across 65 minutes before he was withdrawn as Zidane changed his system.
Jović is a far more static figure than the likes of Benzema alongside him in attack, taking up a more central role, but that allowed Mallorca to predict what he would do on and off the ball and almost immediately isolate him. Playing in tight spaces in congested central areas, he was quickly pressed and closed down and it was evident that he is still getting to know his team-mates. As in the example shown here, his reactions were slow, frequently taking one too many touches and slowing the pace down, allowing Mallorca defenders to regain their position, track runners and close down passing channels.
It is undeniable that Real Madrid are not playing to Jović’s strengths, but he must become more integrated into his team’s approach if he is to be a success at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Receiving a pass less than once every four minutes, failing to win a single duel, register a single touch in the box or a single shot, and with only one completed pass in the final third, it is time to be growing increasingly concerned about the role that Jović has to play at Real Madrid.
Sent off in the second half for a second yellow card for a foul which goalkeeper Courtois said “was a foul which didn’t need to be conceded” after the game, there was far more to worry about in Odriozola’s performance than just his poor discipline which led to his second career red card. It combined with his lowest success rate for all actions since joining the club, with only 60% of his actions being successful, compared to an average of 71.3% since he joined Los Blancos.
Principally, it was his poor defending which led to the first goal, even if not helped by being left vulnerable by the team’s poor organisation and pressing at the other end. As he faced up against Junior, Odriozola looked to shepherd him down the flank from the halfway line, an ambitious approach at best. Whilst he could match the forward for pace, he committed a basic error of over-committing, seemingly unaware of the fact that Junior is right footed, allowing him the space to cut inside behind him to get a shot away on his stronger right foot.
Having lost possession in his own half three times and won just 40% of his defensive duels, Odriozola was the blatant weak link within the Real Madrid defensive unit. Zidane is clearly keen to rest and rotate Carvajal wherever possible, but the lack of a capable back-up is growing more and more evident as Odriozola struggles to prove that he is a viable alternative.
Zidane’s set-up for this game was all wrong from the off, though it was evident that the focus was on the upcoming Champions League fixture, rather than this La Liga clash. RCD Mallorca deserve great praise for the way in which they exploited Real Madrid’s weaknesses, but many of those weaknesses are systematic issues which have been evident for some time. Squad management and planning have left Zidane with few options and his usage of those options available has been poor to say the least.
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