Espanyol vs. Real Madrid- A Case Study

David Ramos

The authorities can officially tie the Catalans ribbons on the La Liga trophy as Real Madrid handed over the Spanish crown to their arch-rivals Barcelona after a disappointing 1-1 stalemate against Espanyol.

Christian Stuani's opened the scoring for the hosts, before Gonzalo Higuain equalized for Los Blancos 13 minutes after the interval.

What follows is a tactical analysis of the game- how Espanyol successfully executed their tactics to frustrate Jose Mourinho's troops.

Madrid Overload Wings, Espanyol Hold Back

-First Half

Real Madrid's strategy from the start of the game was to overload the flanks. In the first-half, they put emphasis on outnumbering the hosts' left wing duo of Wakaso and Joan Capdevilla.

Espanyol however, with extra men, quickly congested their left-flank, prompting Madrid to switch play via Luka Modric. With Stuani plucking in from the right, Nacho was presented with acres of space and the youngster was Modric's go-to man for switching sides in the first-half.


Nacho, however, failed to make the required impact going forward. Frankly, Madrid lacked the incisiveness and pace in switching the play, so the Spaniard was quickly closed down. As a result, he usually played the balls back to Modric or Xabi Alonso.

However, even when Nacho did get the time and space on the ball, Alvaro Morata was a let-down during link-ups and none of the left-back's crosses reached the target.

-Second Half

After the interval, Madrid reversed their tactics with Mourinho ordering his players to overload Espanyol's right wing instea.

Madrid's link-up was relatively better as Kaka (now playing on the left-wing) and Karim Benzema (occasionally on the left) held on to the ball well and chose passing targets more carefully than Morata.

But when Espanyol started to congest the right wing too, Madrid reverted to switching plays, this time to Di Maria or Michael Essien.

On the other hand, Madrid's new-found strategy helped them suppress Javi Lopez and Stuani, who were the prime attacking danger-men for Espanyol in the first-half, but were forced to resiliently defend in the second 45-minutes.

Madrid Down the Middle And Espanyol's Defense

The issue was, after switching play, Madrid's full-backs (Nacho and Essien) lacked imagination.

Hence, Madrid tried to attack down the middle of the park.

Espanyol, were perfectly set up to mitigate this threat. With nine men behind the ball, the 'Periquitos' squeezed any space in between the lines.

Nonetheless, Madrid's attackers' positional bias often scrambled up Espanyol's midfield. This opened up space for Los Blancos, but whoever got into the 'gap' and got hold of the ball, was heavily pressed by the disorganized Espanyol's midfielders. This in turn, resulted in more holes opening up but due the pressing, Madrid couldn't get the balls into promising areas and were hurried off.

Modric also made late runs into the final third to provide another passing outlet, but couldn't carry on his momentum with the ball.


During all this, the back-four of Espanyol was static, organized and never got drawn out of position, even if it meant leaving the above-mentioned spaces.

It was clearly up to the midfielders to do all the dirty work and get Madrid off the ball.

Thus, there was always a rigid back-four for Madrid to breach after getting behind the midfield strata.

The mistake most teams make when "parking the bus" is that the defenders get easily drawn out of their respective positions. Hence, if the oppositions' player gets into a promising space opened, he then only has the goalkeeper to beat. Espanyol never let this happen.


With all options turning out futile, Madrid were compelled to pass in and around the centre of the park, searching for ideas to break up the Espanyol's set-up. Consequently Alonso-to-Modric and vice-versa were the two highest passing combinations for Mou's side.


Espanyol on the Counter with Wukaso and Stuani

The home side clearly opted to play on the counter.

With Madrid's wingers rarely tracking back, Espanyol were easily able to make 2 vs. 1 situations down the flanks (while even 1 vs. 1 situations against Essie and Nacho caused troubles).

Interestingly, Espanyol were productive down that flank which was opposite to the one that Madrid intended to overload.

In the first-half, Stuani was a menace due to Nacho being regularly called up to switch play and after the interval, Wakaso served as the trouble maker (with Essien marauding forward and failing to track back in time.)

Interchanging Roles

Although, this didn't result in much damage to Espanyol, Madrid's positional swapping was simply breathtaking.

In the first-half, Di Maria drifted in from the right-wing to interchange positions with Higuain or provide help on the opposite wing, with Morata doing likewise.

This unshackled the trio them from any man-marking as if the defenders would have continued roaming around the pitch with their respective markers, Espanyol could've left huge channels open. Madrid's aim was to ensure the opposing defenders were always occupied, while at the same time, not be able mark a particular player.

In the second-half, after Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo coming on, the positional swapping only improved. Benzema regularly operated on the left-wing, while Ronaldo kept getting into the hole behind Higuain to ensure a No10-esque present.

Higuain also helped on the wings (or dropped deep), with Di Maria occasionally taking up his national team's position as a striker when needed.

The most enthralling study was that no matter how versatile the players got with their positioning, the understanding and communication between them was such Madrid never congested a particular area with too many of their own men and made sure there was always an attacking outlet all over the pitch.


Despite the effective tactics by both the managers, the two goals in the match came through set-pieces.

Madrid's defending from corners, as it has been through the season, was horrendous.

Espanyol, on the other hand, fared relatively better during dead-ball situations, but a single lapse in concentration allowed Higuain to net in home.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Managing Madrid

You must be a member of Managing Madrid to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Managing Madrid. You should read them.

Join Managing Madrid

You must be a member of Managing Madrid to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Managing Madrid. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.