Was Real Madrid as toothless as they seemed in the first half or were they failing at a few key points? A breakdown of the first half's offensive play reveals that Real Madrid moved intelligently, were creative, but lacked the final ball and failed to utilize their fullbacks going forward. They certainly planned for Manchester United's tactics. Early in the game Real Madrid tried to press high and create gaps to exploit. United did a very good job of positioning with their backline and never allowed any of these situations to be highly threatening. Whenever Madrid tried to up the pace the game became broken up and Madrid looked poor.
1) Real Madrid used Xabi Alonso to take one defender out United's defensive formation so they could work the middle of the pitch. In each of the following photos you will see that United constantly attacked the space that Welbeck would have been near or patrolling if he was not man marking Alonso.
2) Closing down Ronaldo was the other defensive hallmark of United in the first half. Ronaldo had a poor first half with lost passes, bad vision, and bad decisions. Rafael stuck very close to him anywhere to the left side of the pitch.
3) Khedira was allowed space and time on the ball. He moved around during the match to make up for this. His movement was excellent and positionally great. A lot of moves early had him moving into Di Maria's vacated space to allow Di Maria to drop deep and gain time on the ball. His major failing would be a lack of burst and creativity or passing ability on the ball. His runs occupied a defender but never created a real threat due to his acceleration.
4) Ozil became the focal point of all the attacks because of the way United was defending. He smartly dropped deep to the flanks on a number of occasions to draw out Cleverley and create passing lanes. He also made forward runs behind the defense and even ended up in striking positions at times.
5) Di Maria moved very well but was wasteful with his decisions and final ball.
6) Arbeloa did a great job of being a wide outlet and taking up good positions. Unfortunately everyone ignored him. Both United AND Madrid.
7) Coentrao did not do enough OR Giggs was amazing with his positioning to help double Ronaldo and prevent Coentrao from breaking forward. Giggs lacks the pace to threaten on the break and Coentrao could have roamed a lot safer than Arbeloa.
A Few Attacking Moves
Khedira has time on the ball while the right side of United's defense is out of position to handle a ball to the touchline for Ozil. Di Maria has dropped deep to pull up Evra and Arbeloa is staying wide to offer an outlet and occupy Nani. Cleverley refuses to close down Khedira and instead takes away a passing lane while staying near to Di Maria. Ozil's movement has taken Carrick out- leaving a gap on the opposite side of their defense. Notice Welbeck ignoring anything besides staying about 5 yards off Alonso while keeping himself ball side.
Khedira ends up dribbling and passing to Arbeloa. Khedira moves to the wing position while Di Maria drops very deep. Di Maria receives pressure from Cleverley after he receives the pass and launches a poor forward ball.
Real moved the ball from one flank to another as Ozil drops deep to receive the ball. With time on the ball, Khedira runs to overload the right flank and drags Carrick over. Di Maria drops deep and receives the ball from Ozil with enough space to turn and cut inside.
United have been drawn out of position with a gap between Carrick and Giggs as shown above. Notice how Welbeck is attached to Alonso in a position he can break quickly towards goal if Real loses the ball in a bad position. Real are exploiting the middle of the pitch behind Welbeck. The move ends with a foul on Alonso after a Ronaldo backpass; however, had Ronaldo controlled the ball well he had space to move in as Rafael had closed down on him hard. Higuain was making a wonderful run, too.
A broken down attack resets and Ramos feeds the ball to Di Maria who is closed down by Nani. Di Maria beats Nani off the dribble which creates an excellent attacking opportunity. Ozil has seen the play developing and makes a run into space. Arbeloa moves to keep a good wide outlet while Ronaldo and Higuain team up to create good movement. Higuain drops deep off Vidic to occupy Carrick and offer a simple passing outlet. Khedira is in space with good passing options. The best option here is probably a throughball towards the right touchline or a simple pass to Ozil so that he can exploit the 2v1 outside. Instead Di Maria tries a throughball right towards the goalkeeper and has it headed away.
Di Maria drops deep on the right side and puts in a cross field pass to Ramos. Ramos hits a longball to the left side and recovers the clearance with acres of space. As the United defense tries to reset Ronaldo and Higuain occupy Giggs and Carrick - which leaves a lot of space in the middle of the pitch where Ozil has popped up. Ramos has Khedira making a move into the space and tries a blooping pass to Ozil which Ozil heads to an onrushing Di Maria. His touch is poor and United closes down the space before he can recover.
Ozil is allowed time on the ball deep on the left side and he dribbles in to find Higuain dropping off his marker into space. Ozil makes a run in behind the defense while Ronaldo does the same - Higuain is too slow on his decision and United closes down the dangerous passing lanes.
Ozil and Di Maria have dropped deep on the right side again while Arbeloa and Khedira make smart runs. Khedira drags Carrick across the pitch but as Nani closes down Ozil he launches a crossfield ball to Ramos. Note Di Maria and Ozil's position. Ronaldo drops deep to play a quick pass to Coentrao and makes a run to the touchline. Ozil has now come over and receives the ball deep...
Ronaldo receives a nice pass on the run and ultimately dribbles beyond Rafael. Di Maria has made a wonderful crossfield run to occupy the defense while Higuain is moving to be ready for a pass and create space for Ronaldo. Ronaldo now has acres in the middle to make a decision.
He has Ozil making a run in behind Cleverley to get to a dangerous position and be ready for a pass. Higuain is moving in behind Vidic. Di Maria is occupying Carrick on the left. Unfortunately Ronaldo just shoots into Vidic's face.
The front three have started to interchange positions more and a passing move has led to good movement with United's defense stretched. Khedira receives the ball with time and space. Ozil is available for a quick pass with angles to hit the onrushing Di Maria and Higuain. Ronaldo is starting a run and Khedira lofts a ball to the left of the goal that Ronaldo finds but can't convert. It is a nice pass but leaves Ronaldo with a lot to do. The defense was so stretched if Di Maria or Higuain had received the ball on the move it would have been tough to stop. This situation is similar to the second goal except Khedira has been switched with Modric and Higuain is out wide right.
This time the move breaks United down when Ronaldo has come deep from the right side to pick up the ball - much like Di Maria was doing earlier. However, he finds a simple pass to the open Khedira (unlike Di Maria) and then makes a run to occupy the defense. This move looks far more dangerous with Ronaldo cutting inside with passing options than Di Maria did.
Higuain drops deep from his marker to receive a simple pass with United's defense pulled apart. Ozil makes a run but is closed down by Rafael after Higuain takes a few touches. Higuain ends up spraying a very nice ball out to Di Maria is who wide left. His cross is blocked because he takes too long on the ball.
Hope you guys enjoyed that - I enjoyed writing it. I'm not a huge Higuain fan but he made spectacular runs and pressed very well. The way United were set up we needed one more threat in the middle and to be less wasteful with some of our final balls. Kaka being subbed on for Di Maria improved the team; as did moving Khedira out to Arbeloa's space so that Modric could be more dangerous if allowed time on the ball in the middle of the pitch like Khedira was getting.