There was a major fixture in La Liga on Saturday as third-placed Sevilla faced fourth-placed Real Madrid, knowing that a win for Santiago Solari’s team would send them into the top three for the first time since October. After a hard-fought first half, it was Casemiro whose long-range strike opened the scoring. Luka Modric added a much deserved second goal in injury time, sealing a 2-0 win for the hosts.
Los Blancos finally convinced their fans after months of poor form. They managed to convert possession into goals and finally making it count, even if it was yet another game without their strikers scoring. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid can take from the game.
A performance deserving of the Balon d’Or
It has been some time since Modric was truly at his best, but on Saturday he was as good as he can be. Perhaps most importantly, the Croatian was given free reign on the right hand side. With Sergio Escudero frequently looking to burst forwards down the flank, Modric could exploit that into a more advanced position on the edge of and inside the box. Looking to get into that space, he could show his attacking creativity. He even got onto the scoresheet thanks to a high press in that area in the closing stages.
You would have to look back to last season to find the last time that Modric made more dribbles. He has also not made more touches in the box in a single game than the seven he recorded against Sevilla when such records began in 2015. With such freedom, he had a far more devastating role and could help Real Madrid to pick apart their rivals.
Key to this was the role of Casemiro and Dani Ceballos sitting in a deeper midfield role, with Ceballos in particular dropping slightly on the left as Modric pushed forwards. It is also worth noting the role that Lucas Vazquez played, effectively operating as an overlapping wing-back at times, supporting Modric without getting on his toes. When out of possession, the two pressed menacingly, making nine recoveries between them. Together, they refused to allow Escudero out of their pockets. Instead they controlled his runs to allow him to get forward, leaving space in behind without posing a threat.
The best since Roma?
Many of Spain’s front pages on Sunday went with the same headlines: This was the best that Real Madrid have played, possibly all season. That may be a slight exaggeration given the ease with which Los Blancos shook off the challenge of Roma at the Bernabeu in September. It was, however, easily the strongest display since then. With 65% possession, it was the quite the turnaround given the way in which three points were secured against Real Betis despite being dominated from the first whistle to the last.
After an even first half with both teams fighting hard, the nerves at the Bernabeu were clear and the tension was felt around the ground. However, at one point after the break, Real Madrid even boasted 87% possession as they really pinned Sevilla back and grew in confidence. With the back five of the visitors forced deep, Real Madrid struggled to find a way to break them down but remained patient.
Sevilla could barely find a way out of their own half, resoting to hoofing the ball long for Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder. The tactic failed and only saw Real Madrid come back on the attack time and time again. It is no surprise that the hosts completed more than twice as many passes, and it was the first time in many weeks that Solari’s team have looked so comfortable on the ball.
Refusal to let frustration win
Having so much possession did not generate a huge wealth of chances though. With 1.37 xG throughout the 90 minutes, there were no clear cut chances wasted or opportunities thrown away. Instead, Real Madrid were forced to adapt and find another approach to break down their stubborn rivals. Despite being pushed back into their own half and to the edge of their own box, they stood tight.
It led to a new approach. Ceballos’ effort on the hour mark rocked the crossbar, before Casemiro’s rocket opened the scoring with just over 10 minutes to go. It was his fourth shot of the game from outside the box, and represented a fundamental aspect of Solari’s game plan to break down a team content to sit deep and hope for an opportunity on the counter.
Without the likes of Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Isco, there were no recognised long-shot experts, but Casemiro and Ceballos filled the gap well. They looked to run on from deep and exploit the gaping holes between midfield and attack in the Sevilla set-up. It was a matter of patience, but eventually it paid off when Casemiro’s effort found the top corner.
Following up on last weekend
The hero of last weekend was Ceballos. Whilst the whole team appeared to be buoyed by the confidence boost, the former Real Betis man was one of those who really stepped up to the occasion. Selected in midfield ahead of the likes of Isco or Fede Valverde, he knew time was running out to stake his claim. The likes of Toni Kroos or Marcos Llorente are both expected back to face Girona in the Copa del Rey in midweek.
Completing 94 passes with a 93% completion rate, he produced three shot assists, one of them being for Casemiro’s goal, and was influential in the final third. As the most advanced of the three midfielders, he was the link as Sergio Reguilon and Vinicius Junior encountered dead ends in the final third, and looked to cut back to the edge of the box. His skill and technique was crucial in spreading play from one side of the field to the other and wearing out a Sevilla defence which tired as the game went on.
He was also fundamental in transition. In fact, his five progressive runs are more than in his past six appearances combined, and he was pivotal as Madrid looked to bring the ball forward in the first half. In the second half, his role was less dynamic, but he still played an important part. The icing on the cake would have been a wondergoal had his effort dipped under the crossbar rather than smacking the woodwork. It would have been more than deserved.
With Kroos and Llorente expected back in midweek to face Girona, it seems that Real Madrid are finally on the up. Confidence appears to be returning to the team as they found their feet on home turf, particularly after Casemiro’s goal. In what was a must-win fixture, Real Madrid turned up and produced the goods, whilst Sevilla’s conservative approach allowed their inferior quality to be put on show for all to see.
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