La Liga 2020/21: Real Betis vs Real Madrid – tactical preview
Gameweek three sees Manuel Pellegrini face former employers, Real Madrid, in what should be an interesting affair at Benito Villamarín Stadium.
Real Betis have started their La Liga campaign well having beaten Deportivo Alavés and Real Valladolid, they sit second on goal difference. Real Betis finished 15th last season, there are early signs that Manuel Pellegrini has improved Real Betis, they kept clean sheets in the first two matches, they won 1-0 and 2-0.
Real Madrid began their La Liga campaign a week later than Real Betis, having lost to Manchester City in the Champions League round of 16, the extension to the season gave them an extra week off. They began their title defence away at Real Sociedad, Real Madrid looked the more likely to score but were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw.
Real Betis are likely to stick with the same back four that has helped them keep two clean sheets in as many games. The defence will be protected by the two pivots, William Carvalho and Guido Rodríguez. They will provide a defensive block to stop Real Madrid attacks through the centre of the pitch, both players’ strengths lie in defending.
Nabil Fekir, Joaquín and Sergio Canales will play in the three behind Borja Iglesias but their positions may vary to above, the 4-2-3-1 formation, likely to be played by Pellegrini, will allow freedom for the three attacking midfielders. The AMs are likely to occupy more central than wide positions in the game, hence the narrow formation.
Zinedine Zidane set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation last weekend, though, I expect that they will revert back to their traditional 4-3-3 formation. Marcelo is likely to replace Ferland Mendy at left-back as Zidane likes to rotate the two and Marcelo will give Real Madrid a more attacking threat down the left-hand side.
The big call is in midfield, Casemiro could play in the defensive midfield role, having started on the bench in the previous match. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are predicted to play in the two central midfield positions, Zidane looked to accommodate Martin Ødegaard by switching to 4-2-3-1 at the weekend.
Real Madrid needed an extra central midfielder to play deeper at times to break the Real Sociedad midfield block and therefore the switch to 4-3-3 is likely. It would come at no surprise if Ødegaard replaced Modric, playing slightly ahead of Casemiro and Kroos. The front three is likely to stay the same, though, Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio are rumoured to be close to returning.
Betis’ attacking freedom
Manuel Pellegrini has given the Real Betis front four the freedom to occupy any position in the attacking final third, to confuse the opposition defence. Below shows the attacking freedom of the Real Betis front four against Real Valladolid, Canales was the left attacking midfielder and Fekir, the central attacking midfielder but they occupied positions on the attacking right-hand side.
In the final third, Real Betis may look to exploit Real Madrid’s lack of defensive numbers by overloading them in certain areas, playing short passes around the Real Madrid defensive players to create a chance. The inclusion of the energetic Casemiro could put a halt to this, he won 2.19 tackles, made 1.08 interceptions and 2.54 fouls per 90. His defensive actions are successful in halting opposition attacks.
If Real Madrid look to play with a highly attacking mentality, like against Real Sociedad, Real Betis may be able to exploit this, particularly from a counter-attack, a situation Real Betis did well in last season as they scored seven counter-attacks.
The full-backs, Emerson and Alex Moreno provide Real Betis with their attacking width as they look to support the attacks, the three attacking midfielders behind the striker occupy more central positions than wide positions.
Below shows the attacking shape that we will likely see Real Betis play with when in the Real Madrid half.
The full-backs are extremely wide, this provides Real Betis width, with the option of overloading wide areas, the attacking front four players move into half spaces to receive the ball or to make deep runs into the box via the half spaces. Rodriguez and Carvalho are deployed as the two pivots, Real Madrid scored from nine counter-attacks last season, the pivots will be in place to stop this.
Fekir or Joaquín are likely to play in the attacking midfield position and were Real Betis’ most threatening attacking players last season. Both enjoy to shoot and Real Madrid will need to be strong in their blocking of shots, they blocked 1.64 shots per 90 last season, in the last two games Real Betis had shown a high shot frequency, shooting 26 times.
Madrid’s man-mark press
When Real Betis hold possession in their defensive third, Real Madrid will apply a high block, with the aim of winning the ball back quickly to control possession. They allowed 8.99 passes per defensive action last season as they will look to implement a man-mark style press.
Real Betis’ two pivots will hold their position, Karim Benzema will look to block the pathways for the Real Betis central defenders to pass to them. In a Real Madrid 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, the two central midfielders furthest forward will look to occupy positions close to Carvalho and Rodriguez, ready to press them if they receive the ball. The deepest midfielder, here it is Casemiro with the assumption of the 4-3-3, will look to hold his position close to a Real Betis attacker. Notice that the three-man midfield will try to keep its structure as much as possible, to make it difficult for Real Betis to attack without being impeded.
The other players will press those closest to them. Sergio Ramos (LCB) is aggressive in his man-mark and can be pulled out of position, this will be analysed further later.
If possession is won, Real Madrid have the quality and speed of players to attack quickly and make the Real Betis players pay, a potential Real Betis weak spot is left-back Alex Moreno, he had a pass success rate of 78.38%, his strengths don’t lie in passing, the press could be lopsided towards the right-hand side to force Real Betis attacks down the left-hand side.
Betis exploiting the Madrid left-hand side
Real Madrid like to play a high defensive line, the average distance between the defensive line and the Real Madrid goal last match was 59.8 metres, to put that into context, Real Sociedad’s was 46.3 metres. Real Betis’ previous matches showed that they liked to get behind the opposition when possible, shown below.
Fekir made an off the ball run behind the Real Valladolid defence. The Real Betis’ right-hand side will be an area of concern for Real Madrid, 54% of Real Betis’ attacks came from their right-hand side against Alaves, as they looked to exploit Alaves’ weaker left-hand side. Emerson assisted five goals last season and made 3.08 successful attacking actions per 90 from right-back.
Sergio Ramos is an aggressive left centre-back and will look to follow the Real Betis striker when Real Betis defenders or midfielders are in possession. Zidane needs to decide on the balance of his side if Ferland Mendy plays he will provide more overall balance but Real Madrid’s attack could suffer as they miss the attacking strength of Marcelo. I believe Marcelo will start and Real Betis will look to exploit his weakness in defensive positioning and pace.
Against Barcelona, Ramos is shown to push higher than the defensive line leaving a gap behind him for the right-winger, Arturo Vidal, to run into. Claudio Bravo has been signed by Manuel Pellegrini as his strengths lie in his technique and passing, in his first two matches he has completed four passes to the final third, he could look to catch the left-hand side of Real Madrid’s defensive line out, with long passes to the final third, if Ramos positions higher than the defensive line and Marcelo or Mendy fail to cover him.
Madrid breaking Betis’ defensive 4-4-2
Both sides like to play high defensive lines and it would come at no surprise if goalscoring opportunities came about from long passes or passes behind the defensive line. Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior are extremely quick and skilled if Real Betis push their full-backs high up the pitch, the Real Madrid wingers will look to exploit the large space in wide areas in counter-attacks.
Real Madrid averaged ball possession at 57.8% and will look to control the game in the Real Betis half, having had 7788 touches in the attacking third last season, the second most in La Liga. Against Real Sociedad they struggled to attack through the centre, Benzema had to come into midfield, their most dangerous attacker struggled to spearhead the attack as he had little service.
Real Betis like to control possession, Real Madrid are likely to have more attacking joy against a Real Betis side with less of a defensive mentality to the Real Sociedad side that Los Blancos faced. Real Betis averaged 56.5% possession in their last two matches and will look to control the game, especially at home, even against a strong Real Madrid side.
The key for Real Madrid in winning the game is the three midfielders, they only made 27.93 losses in the mid third per 90 last season, the average in La Liga was 35.92. I now take a look at how Real Madrid could break Real Betis mid block.
Real Betis press in a 4-4-2 formation where the two central midfielders are deployed as defensive midfielders positioned deeper than the wide midfielders. To break this block, Real Madrid’s most deep midfielders will look to overload the Real Betis attackers in the Real Madrid defensive third, as shown above.
When Real Madrid bypasses this block, their full-backs are key in mid third and final third transitions, they will look to operate in half-spaces, as shown below.
Against Real Betis, the Real Madrid full-backs can help overload the mid third and attacking third with the central midfielders, this will, in turn, pull the pivots out of position, as the Real Betis wide midfielders press quite high.
If we assume that the transition continues on the left-hand side of the pitch, when one of the midfielders, say the LCM (likely to be Kroos) is in possession of the ball, the Real Betis right pivot will have to press the ball holder, the LCM. This in turn will create space between the lines for the Real Madrid LB to move into and receive the ball. The RCM who plays more advanced is also able to occupy positions between the lines on the left-hand side, again overloading the 4-4-2. This would allow the ball to surpass the Real Betis double pivot.
The deep run by the RCM between the lines allows Karim Benzema to stay in his striker position, rather than having to come deep when there’s an AM already between the lines, it blocks the space that Benzema can receive the ball in, hence he came deep at times to receive the ball against Real Sociedad. This RCM role could be played by Modric or Ødegaard.
The Real Betis backline also play particularly narrow so the Real Madrid wingers may find joy receiving well executed passes from players such as Ramos and Kroos, behind the Real Betis backline. Especially, if Real Madrid transition quickly from defence to attack so the Real Betis wide players struggle to support the full-backs in defence. Real Madrid attempted 17.89 crosses per 90 as they look to utilise Benzema’s poacher instincts.
With Real Betis beginning the season well and Real Madrid struggling to find their best form last match, this match will likely be a close encounter. Both sides will want to control possession, Real Madrid’s high block should see them hold more ball possession as they look to win the ball high up the pitch. It will be intriguing to see whether Zidane switches back to his favoured 4-3-3 formation, it is a tried and tested formation and would work well at overloading the 4-4-2 played by Real Betis, when they defend.
Manuel Pellegrini will hope that his side can continue their two game winning run, star player Fekir is likely to cause problems picking up the ball in various positions, especially if Real Betis are able to find him behind the high Real Madrid backlines. Real Madrid’s quality in possession should, however, win them the game.
Prediction: Real Betis 1-2 Real Madrid