La Liga 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Real Madrid vs Real Betis
Real Madrid’s dismal season came to a dismal end as Real Betis completed the set with victories over both Barcelona at the Camp Nou and Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu to add to their home win over Atlético Madrid earlier on in the campaign. Quique Setién still paid the price for a disappointing campaign with his job, being dismissed hours after his second successive victory at the famous stadium.
La Liga came to a close in a tight encounter in which neither team allowed any space in the first half. In the second, Loren Morón broke the deadlock as he broke free and connected with Andrés Guardado’s cross to score, with former Real Madrid man Jesé Rodríguez reluctantly adding a second late on.
Our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Zinedine Zidane can take from the final outing of the season for his Real Madrid team, even if the next time they take to the field it could be a team with an entirely different complexion.
Zidane gave Keylor Navas the chance to say farewell to the Bernabéu with a starting spot, potentially also the case for the likes of Marcos Llorente, but there was no such opportunity for Gareth Bale. Brahim Díaz and Vinícius Júnior were given starting roles either side of Karim Benzema, sticking to Zidane’s 4-3-3 system which he has only deviated from once as he has experimented in the 11 fixtures since his arrival.
Setién reverted to the 5-4-1 shape which has served Betis well against strong opposition this season, with Aïssa Mandi coming into the team as a third central defender and the full-backs pushing on as wing-backs in the absence of Joaquín and Cristian Tello. Giovani Lo Celso excelled in a more free role which allowed him to roam freely between midfield and attack, providing support to Loren Morón. Pau López also returned to the team in goal.
A short-lived press
One approach from Real Madrid which was clear from the off was to implement a high press. It hasn’t been a common approach from Zidane this season, nor from Julen Lopetegui or Santiago Solari, but it was on show as the French coach looked to deny Real Betis the opportunity to play out from the back. Pau López returned having been dropped in favour of Joel Robles in recent weeks and it was clear that Vinícius, Benzema and Brahim would be looking to capitalise on any early nerves from the goalkeeper, pressing him highly and drawing a mistake as early as the fourth minute. This was when Vinícius’ high press drew results and he intercepted the ball inside the box, only for the goalkeeper to dive at his feet and regain possession.
Of Real Madrid’s 41 interceptions, 18 came in the opposition half, with two even in the penalty box. However, the tactic was short-lived as it became increasingly clear that Real Madrid’s fitness levels and work rates simply could not sustain the approach. Whilst there were eight interceptions in the first 10 minutes, there was just one in the final 10 minutes of the first half, which set the tone for the second. As the press failed to get the results and easy turnovers in possession that Real Madrid were hoping for, the frustration on the attackers’ faces was clear for all to see and their pressing efforts fell back to deeper positions.
Late on, there was no better example than as shown above. Whilst four men were in the final third with Luka Modrić joining the front three to press in the first image early on, there were only four men in the opposition half in the closing stages as Real Madrid allowed Real Betis to play the ball back and gave time and space to Pau López on the ball. It meant that whilst there was not long left to play and the visitors had a comfortable lead, they could easily relax and retain possession without much pressure from the opposition.
Llorente failing to fill the gap
Llorente is expected to leave the club this summer as Zidane’s arrival has seen him relegated once again to the fringes of the Real Madrid first team. Despite his impressive form under Santiago Solari, though, he did little to convince fans that he has a role to play in what could prove to be his final outing for the club against Real Betis. With his second lowest pass completion rate of the season in La Liga, although a still respectable 92%, it was evident that the blow to Llorente’s confidence has impacted his game as he became more reluctant to gamble.
There was no better example than in Real Betis’ opening goal on the hour mark. Guardado dropped deep, pulling Raphaël Varane out of the backline. Whereas Llorente should have spotted the space and moved over to cover, he was clearly concerned by the presence of Wilfrid Kaptoum in behind him and so held off. That split second of hesitation allowed Guardado to turn back and exploit the space, gaining a head start on Varane and allowing him to find acres of space to race down the wing and cross into Morón. He could perhaps be forgiven had he managed to stay central and track back to support Dani Carvajal in marking the centre-forward, but he was barely at the edge of the box by the time the ball came to his feet six yards out.
What’s more, he was rashly jumping into challenges and tackles needlessly. In total, he conceded nine fouls, three times more than in any other game in which he has played as a professional at any level, from Real Madrid Castilla to Spain under 21s, his loan at Alavés or with the Real Madrid first team. He was fortunate to only have been booked once and a dismissal would have been the only way that his afternoon could have gone worse. This performance was a far cry from the composure of the youngster in the middle of the park under Solari. From 10 challenges, he won the ball once and conceded nine free-kicks, which may be just the kind of statistic that Zidane was looking for to back up his desire to sell the midfielder.
The Vinícius experiment
Vinícius returned to the starting line-up for the first time since his injury against Ajax in March and made his first start under Zinedine Zidane, initially being deployed in his favourite position out wide on the left. However, what was most intriguing of his display on Sunday afternoon, was later on in the tie, when he moved inside to take up the central role in attack as he replaced Karim Benzema for the final 15 minutes of the season in Zidane’s last experiment and last roll of the dice.
It was a position which he played briefly twice under Solari, up against Rayo Vallecano as a substitute and also against Leganés, though neither occasion brought much in terms of impact. It was the case again against Betis as Vinícius failed to register a single shot in his time in the central role and his impact became more limited, finding himself dropping deep to pick up possession and losing the opportunity to run at the opposition defenders with his pace. He made just one progressive run and one touch in the box in the closing stages and both of those came as he drifted wide and cut inside again, shrugging off his central responsibilities for greater freedom and movement. Neither occasion created a threat as he found himself looking to cross the ball with nobody in the box waiting to pounce.
Part of Vinícius’ struggle in the middle was that his movement was far too reactionary, as shown in the above image. As the ball was brought forwards around him, he would amble around and not be making runs to pull Betis defenders out of position or offer himself up as a viable passing option. That made it easy for Betis to crowd him out and mark him, denying the possibility for the Real Madrid players to connect with him. Of the three passes he received in the time he played in this role, all came as he drifted wide looking to escape the attention of defenders but isolating himself in the process.
Setién has developed a reputation for his possession and passing style of football which has not quite brought the results that Real Betis were hoping for this season, but they became only the second side this season to have more possession than Real Madrid in both of their fixtures on Sunday. Barcelona were the only other side to do so before them. Whilst that shows that it is not a common occurrence, what will concern Real Madrid fans is that for the first time in two years, there were back-to-back La Liga fixtures in which Los Blancos had less than 50% of possession.
On the whole, the number of passes made by the home team were 22% below their season average, though in the first half this figure reached as high as 30% lower than their season average. It represented yet another game in which Real Madrid allowed the opposition to get on the front foot and dominate the flow of the game from kick-off. Against a team so comfortable and used to being in control like Betis, it allowed the rival midfield to dictate the terms of the match and left the likes of Modrić and Toni Kroos chasing shadows rather than looking to set up attacks and cut through defences.
Particularly concerning was the passing in the final third. Not only were there 21% fewer passes than usual, as is to be expected given the general passing figures, but the accuracy of these passes also dropped by 10% to 71%. Whilst Zidane’s first three games all saw this figure surpass 82%, it has only passed 80% once in the final eight games of the season. His team is clearly lacking incision in the danger zone and is becoming increasingly desperate and frustrated, playing hopeful balls rather than picking out a man specifically. The likes of Paul Pogba have been linked this summer, but it’s clear that a playmaker is what Real Madrid’s midfield is crying out for as age catches up with Kroos and Modrić.
Everything about this performance looked like an end of season run-out with nothing to play for on the Real Madrid side. Real Betis looked up for the fight and with a point to prove, perhaps unexpectedly given their form of late, but they fought harder, used possession more wisely and were smarter with their tactics. Real Madrid were sloppy on the ball and lazy off it. The end of the season couldn’t come soon enough for Zidane and whilst there are reasons to be concerned off the back of this performance, it’s likely that the team will have a whole different complexion come August.
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