Real Madrid began the match in a 4-3-3 with the midfield comprised of Casemiro as the destroyer, Kovacic as the LCM, and Kroos as the RCM. Up front, Ronaldo started off in the lone striker role flanked by Bale on the left and Isco on the right. As the match progressed past the 10-minute mark, Bale and Isco liberally exchanged positions in a desperate attempt to escape the right flank. This movement squashed not only the width of the pitch, but also Madrid’s attacking options. Toni Kroos was routinely ignored and the ball was continually shifted out to the left. This didn’t prove to be too damaging for Madrid as Marcelo finally re-discovered his 2014/15 form. His barnstorming runs were a real threat on the left and his combination with Ronaldo to score was pure class.
In the second half, Bale came off for Lucas Vazquez for presumably some fitness problem. It took a while, but the impact of having a player who actually wanted to move into space on the right showed. From 60 minutes onwards Lucas really got into the game and troubled the Levante defense for half an hour with his dribbling. This widened Madrid’s distribution options and despite scoring one less goal in the second half than the first, the build up play looked better (albeit in spurts). Jese’s introduction for Isco further provided Madrid some width and pace and suddenly things looked a lot better in terms of penetration.
It’s really interesting to see that Isco really distastes that right wing position and that Bale doesn’t seem too keen on playing there either. It really hurt Madrid’s attacking ability and is something for Benitez to take note of.
The general description of Madrid’s play (especially in the first half) would include words like "disjointed", "stagnant", and "brilliant in spurts". Perhaps Benitez should get a pass this match as he didn’t have a recognized no. 9 to play with and Benzema’s ability to string things together cannot really be replaced, but Madrid did not look fluid at all. The distinct lack of a build-up plan was evident in the way that Real Madrid often looked for the long ball to Ronaldo and simply punted the ball out wide in the hope that something would be created. Having watched Madrid for almost 10 games now, it is clear that this is the extent of Benitez’s implementation of possession football. He has so far relied excessively on individual ability to spark something and there were no thought-out passages of play that led to any of Madrid’s chances.
In fact all the goals came from Levante’s mistakes forced by Madrid’s pressing. This can however be taken as a positive. Rafa as been subpar in general with his offensive decisions, but his ability to implement a sensible pressing game into this side is a real plus. Madrid’s ability to challenge for the ball in the opposition half has been steadily improving across the season and it won them the game today.
But my concerns about the fact that Madrid only seem to be able to string attacks together in spurts and through good wing-play remains. This isn’t exactly a plan that can work every game (even with the individual quality that each player has) and thus you can see why Benitez has put the majority of his effort into ensuring Madrid keep clean sheets. Even if Madrid can’t score (which Benitez is gambling on not happening often) at least they will get a point. Only time will tell if Benitez played this way because of a lack of personnel, or because this really is his plan A.
Analysis of Select Player Performances
Let’s start off with one of the players of the match. He was solid defensively as Levante didn’t make many inroads down his flank and he was exceptional offensively. He made 3 key passes, dribbled past 3 players, and scored a goal. The only negative (if I’m really being picky) was that his crossing was a bit off from his usual standards. But overall this was a great game from Marcelo and he should finally be able to kick start his campaign.
Cristiano Ronaldo also had a good game playing as the lone striker for Madrid. In the first half as Real struggled, Ronaldo was the epitome of efficiency. He only got 10 touches of the ball, but managed to dribble past one player, create 2 key passes, set-up Marcelo’s goal, and score a stunner from nothing. In the second half he didn’t receive the best of service, but showed good intelligent movements across the whole width of the pitch. But perhaps most importantly, he answered some of his critics (especially the ones on this site) who propose the ridiculous idea that Ronaldo is useless without his teammates. He was truly dangerous with the ball at his feet as he executed 3 dribbles and drew two fouls, in addition to cutting onto his right foot to score a goal in classic CR7 style.
With the game wrapped up at 2-0, you could forgive Jese for being disinterested in the game. Instead he looked electric and utterly tortured the Levante defense. His 20 minutes produced an amazing 4 key passes, 4 take-ons, and a goal that the Bernabeu won’t forget for a while. Jese was superb today and he looked like a mirror image of a young Ronaldo if you blurred your vision.
Casemiro proved once again why he was Benitez’s best piece of business this summer as he put in a solid performance against Levante. His 4 tackles, 1 interception, and 1 clearance (in addition to Keylor Navas’s now usual brilliance) were especially important in keeping a clean sheet as the back four behind him had several shaky moments. I only expect Casemiro’s role to get bigger in this team as the season progresses and it is clear that he has Benitez’s full faith.
The youngster came on with the game wrapped up but put in a relatively assured performance. He completed all of his 12 passes and the experience he got today could be valuable going forward. It also shows that Benitez has got an eye on Madrid’s youth, even if Madrid’s injuries forced him to call up several reserve members.
(All statistics were taken from whoscored.com)