An empty Santiago Bernabeu was looking for a reaction from Real Madrid following defeat to Real Sociedad on Sunday evening, and Santiago Solari’s men lived up to expectations despite a slow start. It wasn’t until the stroke of half-time when Alvaro Odriozola was hauled down by former Barcelona youth product Gerard Gumbau, allowing Sergio Ramos to convert from the penalty spot.
The second half saw Vinicius Junior come into his own, first assisting Lucas Vazquez to score into an empty net and then scoring himself with a fine volley to put the icing on the cake in a 3-0 victory. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid can take from the game as they secured a first leg win in the last 16 round of the Copa del Rey against Leganes.
Isco has no place at Real Madrid under Santiago Solari
One of the most controversial headlines from the game came before kick-off, as Solari opted to leave Isco on the bench yet again. The former Malaga man has made just two starts in 16 games under the Argentinian and it’s clear that he doesn’t have much of a role to play as long as the current coach is in charge. What made it perhaps even more clear was the role that he played once Isco finally did make it onto the field of play with 21 minutes remaining and the game already looking settled.
It only takes a look at his heatmap to see that he himself had no clue what his role was. Primarily on the left, he floated around but removed the rigidity and structure that Solari has been so keen to implement. In this rigid 4-3-3 set-up, there is no space for an attacking-minded playmaker in the midfield nor in attack. It is no coincidence that Solari has fallen out with Isco given the way he is looking to structure his side, and there is clearly no rush from the player’s side to make amends either.
Having lost the ball with one in every five of his involvements, Isco has work to do. If he does not fit into the coach’s plans, he must up his game to prove that his quality is simply too good to ignore. To date, he has failed to do that. His opportunities have been limited, so he must capitalise when given the opportunity to do so.
The first half was cagey to say the least
There was a tense atmosphere among the few fans at the Bernabeu, despite ticket prices starting at just 15 euros. It clearly transmitted onto the players as well, particularly given that there were more ball losses in the first half, at 49, than in any game since the thrashing at the hands of Eibar. Perhaps the clearest demonstration came just before half-time as Odriozola broke through, as he would go on to do only a couple of minutes later to win a penalty.
Odriozola burst down the wing, placed off the ball to Vazquez and cut inside to occupy a gaping hole in the Leganes defence. Fede Valverde picked him out expertly and the full-back had an incredible opportunity to open the scoring one-on-one. Instead, he looked to cut the ball back into a crowd of Leganes defenders, bottling his chance to score his first goal for the club.
After Ramos converted his penalty minutes later, there was certainly an air of relief and Real Madrid became more relaxed. Forwards stopped snapping at chances, converting 16% of their attempts on goal, as opposed to 12% in the first half and even in that case, coming from the penalty spot. For Solari to get results from this young team, he needs to take the pressure off.
Keylor Navas is a more than capable deputy
Navas made his 150th appearance for Real Madrid on Wednesday and had added reason to be feeling optimistic about his own future as injury to Thibaut Courtois looks set to sideline his team-mate and goalkeeping rival for several weeks. The Costa Rican goalkeeper staked his claim well with a confident and reliable display, showing no signs of rustiness given that his last outing came over a month ago having been relegated to a clear second choice.
Leganes did not give him too much work to do, generating only 0.58 xG, but he did stand up to the test whenever he was required. His best moment came just after the half-hour mark, darting across goal to claw out Martin Braithwaite’s header from a set piece. Braithwaite was his main opposition in the tie, though the Danish international did little to threaten him elsewhere, firing his next best chance wide of Navas’ posts.
With a run in the team now looking certain for the next few weeks, it is a chance for Navas to once again prove his point and show that he should be ahead of Courtois in the pecking order. He will face far greater challenges than a blunt Leganes attack, particularly given that the visitors looked happy to settle for a draw at times in the first half, but this display will have filled him with optimism going into the trip to Real Betis at the weekend.
Vinicius Junior is ready
The one, and only, positive from Sunday’s shock defeat to Real Sociedad was the display of Brazilian teenager Vinicius, and he built on that in midweek. Scoring and assisting in the same game for the first time for the club, he was decisive in attack and finally showed signs of maturity and having settled into the club.
For some time, he has appeared to rush into decisions and snatch at chances which could have been easier to convert, such as against Melilla in the last round of the competition. Instead, however, he outscored his xG for the first time in a game for the senior team, flicking an exquisite volley beyond Ivan Cuellar in the Leganes goal. That was the icing on the cake and a just reward given that not long earlier, he had passed up an effort on goal from a promising angle with Cuellar out of position to instead set up Vazquez to score a guaranteed second.
Added to an 89% dribble completion rate and three shot assists, Vinicius really was central to much of what Real Madrid did in attack. Few doubt his potential, but if he can mature and smooth the edges of his raw talent as he showed against Leganes, he could go on to become a superstar for the club.
There can be no doubting that this evening was a positive one for Real Madrid. A turgid first half saw Leganes make the point that they would be no pushover, as they have already shown Barcelona this season. It was only one moment of clumsy defending, and fortune for Los Blancos, that allowed Real Madrid a golden opportunity to break the deadlock from the penalty spot. From then on, the hosts took control and dominated, becoming more clinical and less wasteful in possession. Solari will have been pleased to see the signs of improvement he has been chasing in the second half, but there is still work to do.
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