Eibar have not been playing like rookies to La Liga. They're certainly not taking the "we're just happy to be here" attitude, and have thus been able to give just about every team they've played a hard time. And with Luka Modrić's absence and the international break, this game flat out smelled funny ahead of time. But luckily...Madrid...brought their...deodorant? I'm sorry.
Anyway, two goals on each side of halftime allowed Real to cruise along atop La Liga. Behold, more Paint, as I try to decipher what Real did well.
Life without Luka
Ancelotti made no real special arrangements in sliding Isco into Modrić's role. He trotted out the same 4-3-3 formation, with Isco playing where Luka typically does. I think neither Kroos nor Isco are in a true "holding" midfield role, but the two of them do facilitate the ball from the middle third to the attacking third. Isco still played a little more forward than usual, but I imagine as the games go by, he'll settle in a bit deeper.
Without a true defensive midfielder in the lineup, Real's defense will probably have play a higher line. If I had to guess, we'll see more defensive responsibilities from Isco and James both (which is encouraging because they've both been getting better and better at tracking back).
A stroke of luck for Benzema, Ronaldo, and James
Just before James opened the scoring, Real were on the break. Not necessarily a counter attack, but they won the ball in midfield and ran with it. Two interesting things happened here.
Firstly, Isco AND Bale were back in the midfield, helping win the ball! Looks like Bale's been listening to Ancelotti about increasing his defensive work, and Isco really is in Luka's role, a bit deeper in the midfield.
And secondly, Dani Carvajal was essentially leading the attack. He's known as a defensive stalwart, but Carvajal pushed upfield quite often yesterday. Watch to see how he plays going forward, because if he can develop an offensive game a la Marcelo's...
Ronaldo's first goal was so simple it's hardly worth illustrating. He and Carvajal traded one-two passes on the right wing, and Carvajal sent a centering pass to Ronaldo who finished it with finesse. Just another day at the office for the world's best. It's somewhat interesting how Ronaldo ended up on the right and how Carvajal was again charging into the opponent's box, but the goal itself was cake.
With Marcelo and Carvajal given more freedom to push forward, the risk is getting beaten on a counter (shocker, I know). Here, Eibar very nearly took advantage. James turned the ball over and Eibar turned and ran at only Pepe and Ramos. Thankfully for Madrid, they made a poor pass which flattened out the counter, allowing Carvajal, James, and Isco to all get back in support. Madrid got away with one here, but against more clinical attacking teams, they might not be so lucky.
"What they cannot foresee, they cannot stop...?"
Benzema's goal was the result of Marcelo's relentlessness on the touchline, and Benzema walloping the ball in it's sweet spot to the top corner. But, the buildup to it was baffling. I don't want to chalk anything the team does up to improvisation (because that'd be incredibly disrespectful to Ancelotti and I wouldn't dream of getting on his bad side. Also yes, I am assuming Carletto reads my Paint articles) but my oh my was this a weird thing to watch.
Why is Carvajal in the middle? Why is Bale running away from the play? Why is Benzema in a right defensive midfield position? Like many things in life, I don't have these answers. If I had to guess, I'd say at this point in the game, the players had a pass to just be in constant motion and move the ball wherever their hearts desired. I'll keep an eye out for this sort of thing in the future, but for now, I don't know how/why this happened.
I should start by warning I'm a huge Coentrão fan, and I was legitimately worried about his mystery injury which kept him out of training for far too long. But he got back on the pitch for the first time this season against Eibar! Fábio took over at LB, and Marcelo got to play around as a winger late in the second half.
What's curious about this is how Ancelotti pulled James, not Marcelo or Ramos, in favor of Coentrão. Given the rumors surrounding Sami Khedira, the timing of this is interesting. Maybe this was a "go-to-hell" move by Ancelotti, determined to keep a clean sheet and further frustrate Eibar's attack. Coentrão and Khedira both need minutes, but I don't understand why Carlo opted for five defenders over sending out Khedira.
Anytime a team loses a player like Luka Modrić, they will suffer. But Real Madrid have both the depth and manager to mitigate his loss. Isco looked as comfortable as one could hope in a brand new role, Toni Kroos did Toni Kroos things, and the team didn't miss a beat with their new midfield duo.