This weekend, Real Madrid will host Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium and with both teams currently playing some absolutely brilliant football in La Liga, this one is bound to be one cracker of a game.
Of course, the hosts are slight favourites going into the clash but even though the Galacticos are formidable within their own fortress, La Real have been quite a revelation this season and an upset could very well be on the cards.
Real Madrid’s approach
Going into this game, there are two main aspects that Zinedine Zidane’s men will want to utilise in their tactics of overcoming a rampant Real Sociedad team. La Real usually defend with an aggressive press – which we will explain further down the line of this tactical analysis preview – and overcoming that press will be absolutely crucial for Los Blancos.
The second aspect that might make or break the game is their ability to isolate and exploit their wide areas, particularly the left-wing where Eden Hazard is more likely than not to start the game. Of course, a lot of it will hinge on the key battle we’ll also address a bit later between two contrasting but equally exciting young players.
Let’s see how exactly can Zidane’s men avoid being pressed by Real Sociedad. Maybe the best example of that can be seen in how they’ve handled Eibar, who are one of the best pressing sides in La Liga with 8.67 passes allowed per defensive action.
When the opposition presses high with numbers, it’s key to always keep passing channels open with multiple options always present to your players. Against Eibar, Real Madrid managed to form triangles or diamonds in their build-up play, successfully and quickly progressing the ball.
We can see an example above as Real Madrid drop players deeper but position them at different platforms on the pitch so they can play out of the press. What is important to notice as the action unfolds is that Benzema will often position himself out wide so that Hazard can then cut inside into the left half-space.
But with the Frenchman drifting out of his position, it often pulls the markers away and creates space. Once Hazard is given so much space and time on the ball, as can be seen in the following example, he can exploit it perfectly.
A piercing through ball is played across the pitch and through Eibar’s defence and the free man on the other side is easily found. The other aspect of their good ability to play out from the back is just the skill of their ball-playing centre-backs and the overall mobility of the squad.
Both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are capable of carrying the ball and sending vertical passes towards their midfield. Often we’ll see the full-backs go forward into the half-space and winger stay out wide and on other occasions, their roles might reverse with the full-backs overlapping and winger tucking in.
This helps them both in their build-up and in the final third as it ensures the opposition’s pieces are constantly moving. Take a look at the example below where we can see Hazard in a deeper position out wide and Toni Kroos actually going forward.
But once the German drops deeper as a decoy, space appears for Benzema to barge into. A simple ball from the Belgian playmaker sends the Frenchman into the box.
A similar situation can be seen below where we actually have Dani Carvajal as an inverted full-back and tucked inside so that the winger can exploit the wider areas. This forces the Eibar defenders to actually follow the defender because he is more likely to receive the pass but since the far right is left wide open, Real Madrid actually switch the play before the opposition can react.
Sending their pacy wingers into open space is something they love to do and something Real Sociedad will have to keep in mind.
Attracting all the attention and the press onto one side and quickly swapping it to the other is a well-known tactic but one that’s still quite effective.
It enables Real Madrid to get their key players in isolated battles with the opposition’s defenders and when you have the likes of Hazard and Rodrygo charging at you on the flanks, that’s never a good thing.
Real Sociedad’s approach
Even though we’ve come to associate Real Sociedad’s style of play as a free-flowing, attacking and dynamic this season, going all-out against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu might prove to be costly for Imanol Alguacil’s team.
Of course, saying that they will definitely not approach the game the same way they approached practically every other clash in the 2019/20 campaign would be going too far but seeing how it is Real Madrid they are facing, caution will surely be advised.
We’ve seen La Real’s conservative approach in their clash against Atlético Madrid and that seemed to work quite well as they secured a 2-0 victory at the end of the night. The key to that triumph was in their defensive solidity.
When out of possession, Real Sociedad have distinctive tactics that have so far worked rather well in La Liga. Primarily, they love to engage the opposition with a dynamic press that moves their block from a static compact one to a mid-to-high press activated by certain pressing triggers.
Below, we can see an example of how they utilised this against Atlético Madrid.
As soon as the Rojiblancos would enter the middle third, it would trigger Real Sociedad’s press and they would quickly collapse on the ball-carrier, cutting his passing lines towards their final third and forcing the play backwards.
This press usually continues as they go hunting for the ball in deeper areas, making a regular build-up from the back a much tougher task than it usually is for some of the teams that prefer that style of play.
Their formation can often vary from a 4-5-1/ 4-4-1-1 press to a full aggressive 4-3-3 system that looks to apply constant pressure on the wide players and blocking off the middle channel towards the opposition’s link-up players.
If the press is bypassed, however, Real Sociedad look to be compact in the middle and always with a similar goal: pushing the opposition out wide and closing down the middle channels while isolating the forward line.
This is often done with the aforementioned 4-5-1 formation that can see Sociedad utilise a midfield diamond to box in the opposition’s midfield counterparts, as can be seen in the example below.
One common thing that connects all these tactics is leaving at least one forward or a playmaker available to successfully launch a quick transition and that’s exactly what we can expect Real Sociedad to do against Real Madrid.
They will be aggressive when defending, blocking the midfield and looking to pounce on loose balls and insecure spells of possession when the ball is with Madrid’s full-backs or the backline in general.
We can see how they utilise that man who stays higher up the pitch, usually in that no.10 position, just behind the striker, to start the transition in the example below.
But we shouldn’t disregard their ability when they are on the ball as well. Usually, they tend to build systematically from the back and will utilise a dropping midfielder in order to do so. One thing that will be absolutely crucial, however, is how good will Real Madrid press when out of possession.
Real Sociedad have a knack of making great use of any space in between the lines and often find the breakthrough specifically by outplaying their opposition in that manner.
Their ability to create space by stretching and moving the opposition’s pieces across the board will definitely be helpful in these situations and Real Madrid’s backline will have to be alert. More on that and Real Sociedad’s biggest threat in the next section of our tactical analysis preview.
Ødegaard vs Valverde
If both are fit and ready to play, this is where the match will be won or lost for either of the two teams. Both Ødegaard and Valverde have been major pieces in Real Sociedad and Real Madrid’s seasons respectively and it’s fair to assume the one who can establish dominance this weekend might as well secure the win for his team.
Intriguingly enough, they are bound to clash against each other considering the former is a highly attacking player while the other is more of a controller who breaks up opposition’s play and orchestrates his own.
Valverde has added that extra energy and mobility into Real Madrid’s midfield, winning the ball deep and then pushing it forward. Notice below how he quickly intercepts the ball against Atlético Madrid and stabilises possession with ease.
On average, he makes three interceptions per game in 2019/20 so far and 6.49 recoveries with 62% happening in the opposition’s half. This is most likely his best quality and one that Los Blancos have been missing in their tactics.
Notice below how he sprints back from the opposition’s final third just to win the ball and regain possession for his team.
His presence might be crucial in stopping Real Sociedad’s potential counter-attacks and in breaking up their general build-up play, which often goes through Ødegaard himself. But Valverde’s presence in the final third should also not be disregarded.
When given enough time and space on the ball, he can produce brilliant passes behind the opposition’s defensive line and La Real will have to be on point with their press if they want to stop him from slicing them apart.
Still, even though he is a big presence in both boxes on the pitch, Valverde might have his hands full with Ødegaard and that could very well be his most important task on the night.
The Norwegian midfield is actually a Real Madrid loanee and it would be quite poetic if he was the one to take them down this weekend.
Ødegaard is extremely dangerous basically from the half-way line moving forward as the youngster is very capable of both exploiting and creating space, two things this Real Sociedad side love to do in general.
Against Atlético Madrid, for example, when La Real had to rely on deadly counters, Ødegaard would stay higher up the pitch and be the one to initiate and carry out the transitions, blazing into Atlético half and creating dangerous situations almost any time he was on the ball.
Here’s an example of how that usually looks when he is given time and space between the lines. In the image, we can see the youngster first brushing off his marker and then bursting into the final third and deploying a piercing pass into the box.
His tendency to position himself between the lines is what makes him such a formidable opponent and Real Madrid will have to be extremely careful not to allow him the opportunity to receive passes unobstructed, especially when moving into their final third.
In those situations, he acts as a pure no.10, slotting right behind the striker and sandwiched between two wide players. When he’s on the ball, however, Ødegaard can cause damage either by carrying it forward by himself or by his accurate passing.
When talking about his passing arsenal, however, we have to mention his smart passes, in particular. Ødegaard is currently first in La Liga with a total of 48 smart passes completed, four ahead of Lionel Messi.
We can see an example of that below.
He is also second in through passes with 30 and first in deep completion with 42, this time edging out Messi by three. This means that he is quite able to receive the ball in deeper areas and then progress it forward successfully, as we have already stated.
In those instances, we can actually see him drop just slightly in order to receive the ball safely and then unleash his incredible passing range to send his forward or wide men bursting into the final third.
Finally, his dribbling ability really makes him a standout player every time he graces the pitch. This season, he averages 5.97 dribbles per game across all competitions with a 35.6% success rate. Needless to say, he is the real deal and will definitely be a huge threat for Real Madrid.
For that reason, Ødegaard and Valverde look like the perfect match-up on paper – one is incredibly creative and attacking-minded while the other excels at smothering that creativity and turning defence into attack.
If their seasons so far are any indication, once they lock horns, we should expect fireworks.
Predicted lineups and the score
Arguably the toughest part of this tactical analysis preview lies in actually predicting the lineup and the score of the game.
On paper, it looks like a brilliant clash of two attacking sides who are doing rather well in La Liga and hopefully, they don’t disappoint.
Here are the lineups I feel both teams could deploy:
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Courtois – Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Carvajal – Casemiro, Kroos, Valverde – Hazard, Benzema, Rodrygo
Real Sociedad (4-2-3-1): Remiro – Zaldua, Llorente, Le Normand, Monreal – Zubeldia, Merino – Portu, Ødegaard, Oyarzabal – Willian José
Both teams are expected to go with their strongest and more or less most-used lineups. Of course, Ødegaard is still a doubt but all the recent reports, as well as the player’s own statements, indicate he will indeed feature.
If he doesn’t, Oyarzabal could slot into the no.10 role and Januzaj back in the lineup.
As far as the score goes, even though Real Sociedad have been extremely impressive this season, the hosts should get the three points but not without a proper fight.
For that reason, let’s go with Real Madrid 3-1 Real Sociedad.
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