Real Madrid returned to home turf knowing that they were days away from a Copa del Rey semi-final against Barcelona. It didn’t see Santiago Solari’s team take their foot off the gas at all though as they blew Alaves away in La Liga for a fifth consecutive win.
Karim Benzema broke the deadlock with a poacher’s tap-in inside the box to maintain his fine form, whilst Vinicius Junior added a second with a pinpoint finish. Mariano Diaz put the icing on the cake with his header in injury time to seal a 3-0 victory. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid can take from the game.
All change in attack
For the first time starting together, Benzema and Vinicius were joined by Gareth Bale as the Welshman returned from injury to start in the trident, replacing Lucas Vazquez. It worked well too, with Benzema maintaining his fine form of late. The two wide men were clearly conscious of the fact that they may well have been battling it out for a starting spot in Wednesday’s El Clasico.
Perhaps just as positive was the display of Mariano. Despite going head over heels after missing the ball entirely with one of his first attempted touches, he made an impact on his own return from injury. Scoring with an exquisite diving header late on, he broke through the lines at breakneck speed, showing real anticipation and desire to get on the end of Alvaro Odriozola’s cross.
In fact, in just 18 minutes he achieved more shots on target than in his previous 215 minutes. With a more confident striker on the bench, it would only be good news and can add a more dynamic, traditional number nine to rotate with the in-form Benzema.
The only real negative was the performance of Bale. Whilst Vinicius on the left received more passes than in any other game for the club, clearly growing in influence, Bale became more and more isolated. Alaves anticipated his cuts inside and shut him down with an early press and marked him closely, nullifying him entirely.
For the first time since February 2018, he recorded zero xG when playing over an hour, something he has done just twice in a Real Madrid shirt. More must be expected of the Welshman, who maybe just proved that he doesn’t have what it to takes to compete with his Brazilian team-mate.
Courtois is right: only Vinicius is better than Eden Hazard
Post-match, team-mates continued to pay tribute to the young Brazilian. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois didn’t hide his belief in the forward when speaking to journalists after the match.
“He reminds me of someone – Eden Hazard. He has so much self-confidence and belief at his age, and he plays boldly and without fear, so they are very similar,”
With every game he gets better, with more efficient decision making and more controlled finishing. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Vinicius would be a better option to have on the left than Hazard.
In front of goal, he was busier than in any of the past eight games. He recorded six shots and put himself on the front line in and around the box, being far more threatening on the left hand side than on the right. Of the six, one came centrally and five came from the left. He made his runs in between defenders to encounter space and looked to take on defenders and find the half a yard needed to get a shot off. Whilst he does not have the flexibility of Hazard yet, he is just as dangerous, if not more.
Perhaps where he does match Hazard is in his creativity. For the first time, Vinicius looked just as much of a creator as a finisher. Not only did he continually facilitate Sergio Reguilon to burst down the wing, but he also looked to drag his men around, regularly cutting inside. Often he would then revert the ball back wide, but in the above chance, he identifies Odriozola’s run through the middle. He splits the defence with incredible vision to tee up the defender perfectly, though unfortunately the finish couldn’t match the pass.
Reguilon is the present and the future
Returning to the side at left-back after Marcelo’s Girona exploits, Reguilon appears to be Solari’s first choice in the position. With displays like on Saturday, it is easy to see why too. His involvement in the first goal was impressive but it also speaks volumes that the defender made more passes in the opposition half than in his own.
Rather than simply being involved in the defensive phase, he took up the reigns of leading the transition, often picking up the ball in his half and looking to link up with Vinicius to take the ball down the left flank. What’s more, his pass completion rate of of 96% was not only one of the highest on the field, but also his highest return in a Real Madrid shirt since stepping up to the first team.
Granted, he completed fewer long passes than usual, but his influence was clear until it faded later on as Bale shifted to the left. This shift forced Reguilon into a deeper role where he was forced to provide cover, rather than overlap to the same extent.
Such involvement did not lead to mistakes though. He did not lose the ball in his own half even once, recording his lowest number of possession losses to date too. Each game brings about a more mature Reguilon and he appears increasingly comfortable alongside Vinicius, building up a real rapport. The youngster will have more challenging games defensively, but when allowed to roam forwards, he has now shown Solari what he can do.
All about the wings
It wasn’t just Reguilon who stood out though. His impact was underlined by his link-up play down the left with Vinicius, part of which led to the opening goal. The pair combined for 29 passes, only surpassed by Casemiro and Sergio Ramos, and Casemiro and Luka Modric. Time and time again, Reguilon would bring the ball out and look to perform a quick one-two to break the lines. Vinicius knew that he had the support of the full-back to cut back to if he found himself coming up against a brick wall.
On the other side, the link between Bale and Odriozola was less fluid, understandably so given the lack of minutes that the two players have had together. Instead, Odriozola would look to perform simple overlaps when Bale cut inside. Later on, when Bale switched to the left on the hour mark and with Marco Asensio later introduced, Odriozola found more freedom. He began underlapping and drifting centrally while Asensio had a freer role, less rigidly stuck outside.
Both men had a real impact, with each full-back setting up a goal. Even without the team’s first-choice full-backs on both sides, they were barely missed as Reguilon and Odriozola delivered nine crosses in total, with five of them being completed. Such depth will be key to any success for Solari this season. Knowing that he can rely on any of his defensive options without worrying about their capability to do the dirty work as well as get forward and contribute to attack will be priceless. Against Alaves, they were even more threatening than the forwards out wide.
With every passing game, Real Madrid look a little more comfortable and a little more confident. Whilst it’s true that Alaves are dropping like a stone and defended like a team totally devoid of any defensive awareness, Real Madrid exploited that to the best of their ability. The performances of the younger generation provide real reason for excitement, even when the superstars like Bale are failing to live up to expectations.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the January issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.