La Liga 2018/19: Real Madrid vs Levante
This post initially featured on our dedicated Real Madrid analysis site, realmadridanalysis.com
In what could turn out to be Julen Lopetegui’s last game in charge of Real Madrid, Los Blancos crashed to a humiliating 1-2 home defeat to Levante, who picked up their first win at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu since 2011 and for only the second time ever. Jose Luis Morales raced through to open the scoring after just six minutes, with Roger Marti then making matters worse only five minutes later by converting a penalty awarded by VAR for a handball from Raphael Varane. Marcelo did pull one back for the hosts, although only after setting a new club record for minutes without scoring. It was too little too late for Lopetegui’s men though and they were forced to settle for a defeat which sees them drop even further down the table and leaves them in seventh place with nine games played. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify where Real Madrid went wrong and were exposed by Levante, having learnt from the way in which Alaves, CSKA Moscow and Sevilla have all beaten the European champions already this season.
Julen Lopetegui’s time is up
The whistles and jeers of the Bernabeu said it all for Julen Lopetegui. His days are numbered and it seems that tenure as Real Madrid coach is almost over. Some expect him to be gone within a few days, with Jose Mourinho, Santiago Solari and Antonio Conte among the many names to have been linked with the club as potential replacements, with some reports saying the change could be made before El Clasico and others suggesting it will come afterwards.
Saturday’s first half display was by far the most abysmal of the season for the Basque coach and Real Madrid could really have faced a three or four-goal deficit by the break. Opened up and exposed on the counter, his team had no urgency whatsoever when getting forwards. The below example drew whistles from the crowd as players ambled forward, static and with little movement, and slow if any, whilst 2-0 down at home. The lack of commitment shown by his squad will speak volumes as to Lopetegui’s position, though he himself did not help matters.
Right from the off, Lopetegui made some strange decisions. After an international break, he opted to rest Toni Kroos, instead fielding Isco who had his appendix removed less than a month ago and then even preferring Dani Ceballos to the German as a substitute. Contrary to pre-match reports, the former Malaga man played a full hour and looked like someone who had been on the sidelines for four weeks. What was even more confusing were the changes that Lopetegui made from the bench. Lucas Vazquez lost playing deep at right-back in the second half to replace Alvaro Odriozola, offered next to nothing throughout whilst many questioned the need for Casemiro as a holding midfielder whilst chasing a win on home turf.
Whilst other results have been disappointing, the manner of this defeat was what made Madridistas quite so despondent. Frustration showed late on as the coach berated the referee whilst Marcelo and others dived into needlessly reckless challenges. The face of Florentino Perez in the director’s box said all that anyone needs to know. Lopetegui’s days are very, very numbered.
Marco Asensio isn’t cut out for his role
Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, all eyes turned to Marco Asensio to step up. He would be the man to join the front three with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. Instead, his failure to live up to expectations has been so appalling that some are even questioning whether he has a future at the Bernabeu. After an atrocious display against Alaves, Lopetegui called upon the Spaniard to step up as Bale and Benzema sat out with injuries.
Rather than stepping up to the plate, he shrank into his shell. So many signs of his dynamic and aggressive style have simply vanished. Whereas in 2017/18 he made an average of 4.07 progressive runs per game, this year it is down to 3.09. Whether it is a lack of confidence, motivation or who knows what else, only he himself knows, but he is not the same player. Unusually deployed on the left-hand side for this battle, with Lucas Vazquez on the right, he refused to do his usual tricks of cutting inside and driving through, instead hugging the touchline and looking to play in meaningless crosses to nobody. Of his five attempted crosses, his third-highest figure of the season in La Liga despite playing less than an hour, only two found their target.
With just one goal, a month ago, and two assists, the most recent almost two months ago, patience is wearing thin with the forward. Florentino Perez gambled on Asensio being able to become the superstar and instead he looks more like a lost schoolboy than ever, overwhelmed by the pressure. Last season the freedom gave him belief, with an average xG of 0.23 per match returning a goal every four games, compared to an average xG of 0.27 returning one goal every 10 games in 2018/19. The Bernabeu is an unforgiving place and time is running out for Asensio to prove his point.
Doubts remain over Thibaut Courtois
The only high profile signing who has been deemed good enough to go straight into the first team this summer was goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Having displaced Keylor Navas between the sticks though, he has not been particularly convincing. Seven games into his spell with Los Blanco, he has conceded eight goals and kept just two clean sheets and some are beginning to question whether he can handle the pressure of wearing such a prestigious shirt.
In fairness, his expected conceded goals tally is at 8.47, actually 0.47 higher than the number of goals conceded. That is in part due to how exposed he has been by his defence time and time again. On Saturday, it was Raphael Varane’s turn to become error-prone, losing track of Jose Luis Morales as he burst through to round Courtois and score and then conceding a foolish penalty only minutes later for a needless handball. At other times it has been Sergio Ramos or Marcelo, neither of whom lived up to expectations on Saturday in any circumstances.
Courtois is still adapting and it’s clear. Struggling to learn how to handle when to come out with such a high defensive line, it cost the Belgian dearly on Saturday when Morales broke through. For the very first time at his new club, Courtois failed to make a save against Levante and he is doing little to convince the Navas loyalists that he should be first choice.
The goal came, but it didn’t ease concerns
After breaking the club’s record goal drought, Real Madrid finally found a breakthrough to grab a consolation goal against their rivals. The goal came midway through the second half as Marcelo raced through from deep to rifle the ball into the roof of the net after a Karim Benzema cut-back. Despite the end of the drought though, there are still plenty of reasons for Real Madrid fans to be concerned.
In a game when Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Marco Asensio, Isco, Mariano Diaz and Lucas Vazquez were all on the field of play, many of them at the same time, not a single forward managed to really threaten Oier Olazabal, getting only 12 shots on target from a grand total of 30 attempts and only two efforts having an xG of over 0.2.
What is perhaps even more worrying is in midfield. Without Cristiano Ronaldo and with forwards desperately out of form, it is natural to look to the middle of the park for the goals. Yet, as can be seen above, not one of the midfield trio on the field at the time are even in the final third for the attack which led to the goal. In total, the midfield offered 0.42 xG. Simply put, the lack of creativity in midfield is part of why Real Madrid have been struggling so much of late and Saturday showed few signs of improvement.