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Real Madrid, La Liga 2014/2015: Mid-season report

Analysis of Real Madrid's season at the halfway stage.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid reached the midpoint in the league playing its 19th match of the season against Cordoba last match day. Los Blancos sit alone atop of the table one point above second place with a game in hand still to be played. The team’s ascent to the summit was boosted by an incredible 22-game winning streak in all competitions which ended earlier this month. The performances during the run were enthralling leading to the incredible numbers put up by Carlo Ancelotti’s players. To date, there have been 64 goals scored at an average of 3.37 goals per game: where Los Merengues to maintain this record pace, they would finish the season with an astonishing 128 goals.

Attacking superiority has been a consistent theme at the Bernabéu over the course of the last five years. The impact of Florentino Pérez’s return cannot be emphasized enough as the team made a significant leap (compared to the trend at the time) in Pellegrini’s tenure in terms of match control and dominance. This proved to be necessary as Barcelona’s budding hegemony had the potential to take firmer footing. The president initiated the mission to rebuild the team and the rest, as they say, is history. Manuel Pellegrini laid down the groundwork for the offensive impetus Real Madrid would display with increasing panache in the years that followed, José Mourinho revolutionized the football and organization, and Ancelotti brought it all home with the triumph of all triumphs last May.

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Despite the clear succession and progression of the framework, Ancelotti made key changes to the side that fans had grown accustomed to during Mourinho’s time. The formation/positional adjustments and integration of new recruits gave the team a new look. And in spite of the success of Pérez’s second term, the fact remains that Real Madrid have only won one league in the last 7 (including the current one) seasons – 3 in the last 10.

The above graph shows how well Real Madrid performed in the league in the noted time frame compared to an average top 4 side in the season. The chart illustrates the duality of the team before and after Pérez’s return as aforementioned.

From 2005/2006 to 2008/2009, the squad underperformed in key metrics outshooting league opponents at worse rates than the top 4 average. The 2007/2008 season is a minor exception as Bernd Schuster's men outperformed in shots and goal difference despite still posting below par (top 4 being the standard) overall shooting. The years that followed were much better as the Galacticos’ shots and goals net (created-conceded variance) outputs exceeded average teams in the Champions League spots. The increase wasn't reflected as starkly in the points differential: although there was a notable improvement, it wasn't nearly as big.

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If we filter the data (retrieved here) to just show how Real Madrid performed against the top 4 sides comparative to the average performance of a top 4 side against another, we realize that Los Merengues have been subpar against top sides this season to date. This continues the trend started last season as the team registered the lowest point differential of the last ten years. The shots and shots on target metrics weren't out of line but, combined with the lack of end product, perhaps indicative of a lack of efficiency or simply bad luck.

However, when the accuracy and conversion differentials (how much better or worse we shot on target and converted than our opponents) are considered over the last four and a half years, it shows that the luck argument isn't necessarily valid. On the other hand, it might explain the major problem of Pellegrini’s term as he proved to be one of the more shot dominant coaches but a comparatively low conversion differential (worst of last ten years) perhaps let him down. Whether or not finishing is a product of luck, repeatable skill, or tactical design to create better/easier chances while limiting the same for opponents is difficult to say exactly but an interesting question nonetheless.

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In spite of a fairly standard offensive and defensive balance statistically in terms of raw chance creation, Real Madrid's shooting accuracy and conversion differentials have been its most influential in the last 10 years. They shoot on target with 15% more accuracy and convert chances 12% more of the time than opponents on average this season. This bodes well for Los Blancos as it means that they are showing both effectiveness and efficiency with enough consistency to distance themselves from the pack both on the field and the league table. It's very complicated to predict how the team will fare in the next half of La Liga as some teams (including title contenders) will undoubtedly strengthen changing the dynamic of matches. Nonetheless, if Ancelotti and Fernando Hierro can get Cristiano Ronaldo and co to replicate their showings in the first half, they'll have an excellent chance of claiming the title.

Update:

This article originally contained charts (both  regarding 'over/under' statistics) that showed Real Madrid's 2014/2015 measures in the metrics as being the high points for the considered period. Unfortunately, this was due to an error and it has been corrected in the article. Additionally, the promo headline and blurb were changed as while this season has without doubt been very impressive, it has not been as was suggested 'extraordinary' or the best season of the last 10 years. The remainder of the article is unchanged.

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