La Liga 2022/23: Attacking superiority leads to Galacticos goal fest – tactical analysis
Reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid appear to be going from strength to strength in recent years – collecting trophies for fun, players finding magnificent form, and the signing of exciting young prospects: it is certainly a fun time to be a Los Blancos fan. Celta Vigo fans can also be relatively happy with the progress made by their club. Since their return to Spain’s top flight in 2012, they’ve managed several top-half finishes, seeing some impressive players don their colours along the way.
The hosts drew their opening game – an exciting 2-2 tie at home to Espanyol, while the Spanish champions picked up a 2-1 victory away at Almería – they also picked up the UEFA European Super Cup in the same week. The Galacticos continued their impressive start to the new campaign with a 4-1 win away at Celta Vigo.
This tactical analysis will provide an insight into how Carlo Ancelotti‘s side dominated their opponents despite many of the common statistics suggesting the game was equal. There will be an analysis of Madrid’s attacking approach, their tactics off the ball, as well as a look at the performance of Aurélien Tchouaméni, who was tasked with taking Casemiro’s role following the Brazilian’s move to Manchester United.
Hosts Celta Vigo lined up in a 4-1-3-2 with a narrow shape to try and stifle any momentum Madrid had. Veteran Agustin Marchesín started between the sticks with a back four of Hugo Mallo, Joseph Aidoo, Unai Núñez, and Javi Galán. In front of them, defensive protection in the midfield unit was provided by Renato Tapia – Fran Beltrán operated ahead of him, alongside Óscar Rodríguez and Franco Cervi. Iago Aspas and Gonçalo Paciência led the line.
Carlo Ancelotti sent his side out in a 4-3-3 formation – Thibaut Courtois kept his place in goal. A back four of Ferland Mendy, David Alaba, Éder Militão, and Daniel Carvajal put in a solid display, thanks to Aurélien Tchouaméni adding defensive structure in midfield. Luka Modrić partnered Eduardo Camavinga further ahead, with a front three of Vinícius Júnior, Federico Valverde, and Karim Benzema.
Ancelotti’s men a real threat in transition
Real Madrid are masters at adapting to various game situations and opposition approaches, which also gives them an element of unpredictability in some ways. They are fully aware that they aren’t going to dominate possession in a way like teams such as Manchester City typically would – and that wasn’t their intention in this tie. They were at their mesmeric best when attacking in moments of transition, as the analysis below discusses.
This first analysis shows Madrid’s ability to turn possession in dangerous areas into their own goal-scoring opportunities in the blink of an eye. Tactics and match preparation will only get you so far though – having players such as Luka Modric in your midfield gives you an instant advantage. The Croatian is a technician in every sense of the term when on the ball and has a sixth sense in these scenarios. He begins the move by taking up a good supporting position in space, offering himself as a passing option to Carvajal as Madrid look to play their way out of trouble instead of simply clearing their lines.
The next phase in this move highlights Modric at his best – he is able to receive the ball on the half turn, knowing Celta Vigo have a high presence in the Madrid defensive third, meaning there will be space to be exploited going forward. His first touch set up the next pass nicely, and the former Spurs midfielder hits a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Vinícius.
From a defensive perspective, the attacking commitment from Vigo left them with just two players at the back, meaning they had to have some distance between them to cover more ground – a risk they could not avoid, but one that cost them dearly. A fine example of turning defensive possession into a dangerous attack via a transition from Real Madrid.
The next analysis is an example of how the current Spanish champions looked to attack when Celta Vigo’s defence was in position, as usual, meaning no attacking transition was on the cards. As mentioned in the lineups segment, Vigo opted for a shape that is slightly narrower. There are wide players, but they tend to tuck inside rather than hug the touchline: a factor that Madrid were aware of and looked to capitalise on. The Galacticos have two incredibly talented players in their midfield ranks – both centrally and on the flanks, and both were important in their quest to attack using passing combinations in wide areas.
This example sees Vinícius under pressure while running with the ball, but he manages to shift it into a wide area before laying the ball into Tchouaméni, who quickly dispatched the ball into the young midfield sensation Camavinga.
Meanwhile, Vinícius isn’t waiting around but is instead making a clever run into the wide space – this is recognised by Camavinga and the Frenchman knocks the ball back to the Brazilian who has space ahead of him, launching the attack into the next gear.
Clever combination play like this, when you have players capable of playing quickly in small spaces, can be a very effective way of bypassing the opposition while keeping the ball on the ground.
These images portray another attacking transition for Madrid, leading to another goal as a result. Following an attack from Celta Vigo, Real’s strong defence deal with the danger, with the ball finding its way to Tchouaméni. The (reported) £85m man collected the ball and drove forward into the opposition half with good pace and technical ability, where he had the attacking support of Benzema and Vinícius ahead of him. While he picks the correct pass in passing to Vinícius, the movement and positioning of Benzema are somewhat genius and add another element to Madrid’s impressive attacking tactics.
Aware of the transitional attack and Vinícius’ run, Benzema pulls himself away from the centre slightly, drawing the defender out to mark him – this creates space between the last two defenders which later becomes a useful tool for Vinícius, especially with Valverde making a late run behind Benzema.
It’s at this point that questions could be asked in regard to who Vinícius was trying to pick out after he cut inside and laid the ball into the space on the right-hand side: was it meant for Benzema just as the striker lost his footing, or was the pass intended for the late-arriving Valverde all along? In the end, it doesn’t even matter – the ball ends up in the path of Valverde who fires it past the keeper to all but kill the game off. There was nothing too complex about this move from Madrid – and there didn’t need to be, just an ability to recognise space and know how to attack it quickly.
Madrid well-organised out of possession
Every decent team has its merit in attack, but a great team must be masterful in the art of defending – in all areas of the pitch, not just in and around their own box. From having a strong shape when defending in your own half, to knowing the triggers and timing in a press, every detail counts. This segment of analysis provides an insight into how Ancelotti has his side set up to stop the opposition from attacking and regain possession.
Defending in a medium-level block is probably the defensive approach Real Madrid are used to more than any other defensive tactic. To avoid being forced deeper into their own half, a number of factors have to be executed to a tee. The back four needs to be high enough to allow for anything else – any deeper and the midfield would also have to drop, inviting Celta Vigo on. Secondly, Madrid positioned their midfield unit based on the positioning of the opposition – there are no Vigo players centrally between Madrid’s defending and midfield unit, allowing Madrid’s midfield to push a little higher up.
The midfield trio remain tight and compact to mark the close options of Celta Vigo, and this method is boosted thanks to the defensive support from Vinícius and Valverde, who both dropped out of the attacking unit and into the midfield zone. Every Madrid midfielder in the image above, and often in any other situation similar, would be positioned in such a way that enabled them to quickly press the player closest to them if they received the ball.
In any game where the ball-share is fairly equal, both teams will have strong spells of possession in the opposition half. Real Madrid were no exception in this tie. Whenever Celta Vigo were behind, they would commit more players into attacking scenarios to try and rescue the game, which meant Madrid were sometimes forced to adopt a more defensive set of tactics.
The closest winger to the ball would lend his assistance in the form of pressing, while the other winger (Vinícius in this case) would drop in to make a tight midfield three, offering little in the way of central ball progression for Celta Vigo. Interestingly, in these situations, we’d see Tchouaméni drop significantly deeper into an anchor role of sorts – likely to add support and structure to combat a higher attacking presence from the hosts.
Madrid are a team that shows no mercy – if they smell blood, they will attack. In this case, while 3-1 up, they sensed a drop in confidence on the ball as Celta Vigo had possession in their own half, with body positioning and slow reactions triggering a press for the Galacticos. Benzema kept tabs on the first centre-back to play the pass, while Modric and Valverde were on standby, ready to apply immediate heavy pressure onto their opponents when required.
Camavinga’s presence in the final third also blocked off another passing choice for Celta Vigo. Pressing like this killed a lot of momentum that Celta Vigo had and allowed Madrid to manage the game even without the ball.
Aurélien Tchouaméni: midfield juggernaut
Historically, Real Madrid have always been a club gifted in the field of identifying and picking up young talents that fit their tactical blueprint. Even in recent years, signings such as Camavinga, Mendy, and Vinícius to name a few, have made big impressions on the Spanish giants. Capturing the signature of Aurélien Tchouaméni was a fantastic coup, fending off competition like Liverpool. The 22-year-old midfielder was signed well in advance of the departure of Casemiro but has hit the ground running in filling his boots. This final segment will provide an analysis of his performance against Celta Vigo.
At 6’2 tall, he brings a certain physical presence to the midfield ranks and has impressive physical attributes to go along with it, including pace and strength – both of which were on display in the image above. He kept pace with the Celta Vigo player, stopping him from progressing forward and forcing him back. As the opponent cut inside and attempted to dribble in another direction, Tchouaméni readjusted himself and got across brilliantly to put in a tackle and direct the ball towards teammate Camavinga.
His defensive presence was certainly felt in this fixture, and the data backs it up too, with the Frenchman recording three interceptions and an impressive nine recoveries.
Being a defensive midfielder in a top, winning team means so much more than just winning the odd tackle. Sure, there needs to be a defensive consistency, but ability on the ball and tactical awareness are equally important as they are able to help move the attack forward.
The images above show Tchouaméni operating in a role where he is responsible for transporting Madrid’s possession to the opposite flank to attack from a different angle. He initially takes up a good position in the centre – under absolutely no pressure and in good proximity to Camavinga, allowing for an easy pass. His early control of the ball is important and is executed well, allowing him to successfully continue the possession onto the right flank. These are simple actions, but they are actions that still require timing and execution, both done consistently – something Tchouaméni succeeded at.
External factors like Barcelona’s struggles off the pitch, combined with the notable start Real Madrid have made to the 2022/23 campaign, the Galacticos should be confident of retaining their La Liga title.
They have an exciting squad with a good balance of youth and experience, managed by one of the greatest minds in the game in Carlo Ancelotti.
This performance showcased Madrid’s individual talents but also highlighted the tactical work done on the training pitch. Able to adjust tactics to take control of any situation, Madrid remain difficult to beat and even harder to stop.