Tragically, my resources for high-quality match replays have been running dry. But I was so rapt with how Real would look with Illarra starting, I figured low-quality photos will suffice. At last, I have a canvas of low quality enough to match my art skills!
The match was certainly the Cristiano Ronaldo Show, but the rest of the team dealt with the absence of Isco extremely well. Let's take a look.
Illarra gets more freedom
In the midweek match against Cornellà, Illarra's role was decidedly defensive. With Isco on the bench, Illarra's role was slightly more free-sweeping as shown here.
Kroos led the team with five tackles, while Illarra led the team with four interceptions. It's hard to believe Kroos has attacking ability, and it's hard to understate how well he's transitioned to a deeper role. Meanwhile, Illarra showed us precisely who he is yesterday: a defensive midfielder, always composed, and capable of distributing.
Ancelotti played a pretty genuine 4-3-3, and it'll be interesting to see how he'll handle not only Isco's return, but also James' injury. We've yet to see an Kroos-Illarra-Isco midfield, but on Saturday, the Kroos and Illarra pairing looked great both defensively and in attack.
Full team defense stifles Celta
I should open with a disclaimer that I don't understand defensive tactics and form as well as I do offensive, but I'll have a go anyway. But Real Madrid have conceded only twice in their last six matches after they started the year by coughing up 10 goals in five games. What sparked the stark turnaround?
Ancelotti loves to use his fullbacks to amplify the attack, and both Marcelo and Carvajal are quite good at it. Real Madrid don't count on just their defenders to defend. Being vulnerable on the break is a byproduct of being so lethal on the counter yourself, and Celta recognized this and tried to use it.
Madrid were attacking with eight players when they turned the ball over. Celta broke, and 12 seconds later when they were putting the ball into the box, Madrid had more than just Pepe and Ramos defending. Marcelo and Carvajal rely on the midfield to help out defending when they're down the wings. Maybe earlier in the season the likes of Kroos, Isco, Modrić, and James were a bit later getting back, which led to conceding more? I'm not sure. But I do know that now, Real Madrid's defense is anchored by Pepe and Ramos and supplemented by the midfield, instead of relying fully on four defenders to close the door.
Alright let's get to the goals
Well, Cristiano's first was a penalty from a soft call. Not much to look at or say. It's money in the bank. Moving on. Cristiano's second was mostly a brilliant play by him and Kroos. Kroos picked up a poor clearance, and seconds later Cristiano hit a floating ball out of the air perfectly. A magnificent play, but it, too, was uninteresting from a tactical view.
The third goal, however, was classic Real Madrid and classic Cristiano.
A misplaced pass by Celta at the 80:40 mark, and nine seconds later the ball's in the back of their net. And it wasn't even a colossal blunder of a pass, it was just one poor touch, and Bale was instantly on the ball charging in.
Bale, Marcelo, and Ronaldo were outnumbered by Celta defenders 2:1 and still found the net. It's interesting how Bale's on the left side and Ronaldo the right, but I've noticed Ancelotti tends to give his forwards the freedom to go where they please. Bale's been steady since returning from injury, and I think a year ago he would've gone for a wonder-strike once he got the box. Instead he lays it off for Marcelo who crosses it to Ronaldo for a textbook finish.
The optimist in me thinks an unstable midfield at this point in the season might turn out to be a good thing. Kroos will need more rest, James is dinged up, Khedira's returning soon, and Modrić is out for a bit. This will coerce Ancelotti into making a few makeshift formations in the meantime. Illarra and Kroos were menacing defensively Saturday, and this could be used as against stronger attacking sides. Throw Isco out there with them, and who knows what could happen. Ancelotti will continue to have to figure it out as he goes, as he waits the rest of his midfield to get healthy.