La Liga 2018/19: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid
This analysis for the Madrid Derby originally featured on realmadridanalysis.com
In Europe’s footballing capital, two giants met on Saturday evening at one of the continent’s finest arenas as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid came face to face in the Madrid derby. After a real battle, neither team managed to find a breakthrough. Here, a tactical analysis will use statistics to identify just why Real Madrid were unable to get revenge for the UEFA Super Cup defeat which humiliated them in August, playing out a hard-fought 0-0 which kept the two teams occupying second and fourth places respectively.
Thibaut Courtois and Jan Oblak saved Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid
Opportunities to shine since joining Real Madrid have been fairly limited for Thibaut Courtois, progressing through routine wins and then facing a bombardment where woeful defending left him hopelessly exposed. Against Atletico Madrid though, he was the hero. In the 18th minute, he superbly denied Antoine Griezmann after he broke through the lines, getting his hand to the ball as he rushed out and denied the Frenchman when he really should have converted. Not long later, he did the same in a similar scenario with Diego Costa. In total, xG would dictate that he should have conceded 1.24 goals, instead, he kept his second clean sheet since joining the club.
At the other end, Jan Oblak kept Los Blancos out too. The six saves he made were the most he has made all season, only matched by the UEFA Super Cup meeting with Real Madrid in Estonia. The smartest stop of the lot was to deny Marco Asensio at close range in the second half, spreading himself out to make amends for a first half error where a misplaced pass rebounded off of the Spanish international and only narrowly went wide of the post.
It was most certainly a tale of the two goalkeepers, with both being called upon with both their hands and their feet. Another, perhaps more basic but equally impressive statistic, lies in that Courtois is still yet to misplace a short pass in a Real Madrid shirt. The battle between Courtois and Navas is ongoing, but more than ever, Courtois is winning.
Julen Lopetegui’s substitutions continue to confuse
If the decision to replace Gareth Bale with Dani Ceballos was a cautious one, then the later call to replace Luka Modric with Lucas Vazquez was inconceivable. The move set Real Madrid up in a 4-4-2 with just eight minutes left on the clock, though in reality, it seemed that none of the men in midfield were comfortable in their new roles. Playing in a very narrow set-up, Vazquez was playing in a more central and deeper role than he is used to, whilst Toni Kroos and Casemiro formed a loose double pivot with Ceballos looking uncomfortable on the left flank.
That led to huge gaps down the flanks with Filipe Luis and Juanfran still able to bomb down the flank and exploit the space despite tiring. Such a narrow set-up changed only minutes later with Vinicius introduced to add width as Lopetegui appeared to be in two minds as to whether he wanted to consolidate and protect the draw with a narrow set-up or look for the winner with attacks down the wing.
The decision to introduce Vinicius and Vazquez ahead of Mariano Diaz, the only out and out forward on the bench, reflected that. Mariano was impressive coming on against Roma but has still seen his opportunities since then limited. Fans around the Bernabeu were chanting his name, believing that his pace and energy could be a threat in place of the blunt Karim Benzema, but instead, Lopetegui waited and waited and took off The Best winner Modric in order to field Vazquez in an uncomfortable role.
Both sides lacked ambition
You would have to go back to the final La Liga game of 2017/18, when Zinedine Zidane heavily rotated his side ahead of the Champions League final, to find the last time Real Madrid had a lower xG than the 1.15 registered on Saturday night. Whilst Atletico are a defensively astute rival and didn’t dare to attack too often, it is a figure which left many fans of the home side feeling shortchanged at the little desire that was on show to find a winner.
Injury to Gareth Bale was clearly not within Julen Lopetegui’s planning, but his decision to opt for Dani Ceballos was one which was clearly made with the aim to avoid risks. Ignoring the likes of Lucas Vazquez, Mariano Diaz and Vinicius Junior on the bench, all three more natural like for like replacements for Bale, Lopetegui looked to Ceballos to fill in a 4-1-3-2 with Casemiro behind Ceballos, Kroos and Modric in midfield. Whilst he occupied the more attacking role of the front trio, the lack of a third man in attack gave Atleti more time on the ball at the back and more opportunity to send full-backs forward.
Diego Simeone’s reluctance to gamble meant that they did not exploit that perhaps as much as they should have, with the reaction being to replace Diego Costa with Thomas Partey midway through the second half to try to control Ceballos. In fact, of the mere 34 touches within the penalty box, Real Madrid possessed 27, compared to just seven from Atletico, though Nacho was the player with the third highest number of touches in the box with just four. It was a real game of tactical chess between the two coaches on the touchline, but it made for little entertainment for the less analytical spectator.
An unexpected La Liga debut for Vinicius Junior
Labelled too immature to be involved with the first team and banished to Castilla just over a month ago, it was a surprise that Vinicius Junior was included in the matchday squad for the first time for the biggest domestic fixture yet in a Madrid derby. Yet, with that in mind, Julen Lopetegui looked to the young Brazilian to change the game in the 88th minute with his explosive pace offering a threat up against a tiring and slow Juanfran on Real Madrid’s left flank.
Right from the off, Vinicius was bursting down the wing looking to dribble in and out of the Atleti defence. Perhaps most impressive of all was that in just five minutes of game time, he managed to double the number of touches in the box that Karim Benzema, who he replaced, had managed in 88 minutes. There was no chance for him to show an end product, but he certainly got the ball into the right areas.
It was a very brief of debuts, but his biggest weakness appeared to be his lack of strength, frequently being easily shrugged off the ball. He lost possession four times in total and failed to complete a single dribble, but his intentions were more positive and direct than anything that Real Madrid had produced for the vast majority of the previous 88 minutes.