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Three observations on Real Madrid this season

A few points on Real Madrid's season so far.

Filling in comfortably.
Filling in comfortably.
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

1. For the first time in years, the defence is Real Madrid's strongest unit.

With only 2 goals conceded in 11 competitive fixtures this season there's much to be applauded about Real's defensive competency and with Keylor Navas currently the best goalkeeper in the world going off form it's not hard to see why. But not all of the credit should go to the Costa Rican, as all the members have contributed as have the pragmatic, oft-criticised tactics of manager Rafael Benítez. Raphael Varane, for instance has been imperious so far this season and should now once again be considered one of football's premier centre-backs. Varane's positioning is excellent as he's always in right area to either clear or intercept the path of the ball. Sergio Ramos too has been playing to the standards expected of him - Derbi slip-up notwithstanding - and as long as these two don't pick up injuries then fans can rest confident in the heart of the defence. Credit must also go to the full-backs however, as both Danilo and Dani Carvajal have played excellently on the right hand side with their piercing, marauding runs whilst defending stoutly. It will be interesting to see which of them gets the starting position when Carvajal returns from his ankle injury. Indeed both have performed to the level where it would almost be unfair to drop either player. On the left, there is no such issue as Marcelo is Madrid's only recognised left-back. Fortunately he hasn't yet picked up an injury so here's hoping that this continues. Whilst still prone to being out of position on occasion, Marcelo has otherwise been putting in complete performances. His ball recovery has improved and he is always a threat going forwards as he links up with various Madrid midfielder's these days as a result of Cristiano Ronaldo's change of position. In a way, this makes Marcelo less predictable and when that's the case then you can expect the Brazilian to cause damage. All of this defensive solidity is made all the more impressive when one considers that through only 11 matches Madrid have already had injures to Carvajal, Danilo, Ramos and Pepe this season.

2. Real Madrid's depth impresses.

With all of the players Los Blancos were missing for the tie against PSG it would not have been unreasonable to think Real might have lost the fixture away in the Parc des Princes. Luka Modric did not start the game and only played the last 20 minutes. James Rodríguez, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, all starters when they're fit, were out due to injury. Dani Carvajal and Pepe whilst perhaps no longer being undisputed starters, are obviously important players who were also absent through injury. This all adds up to seeing a Madrid side that were ravaged by injuries face a full-strength PSG who had all of their stars on display in the highlight game of Wednesday's round of Champions League fixtures. Therefore huge credit goes to the players that came in to fill the gaps. I'm talking of course about Jesé Rodríguez, Lucas Vázquez, Casemiro and later also Denis Cheryshev as a substitute. Considering the level of the opponent and the players they fielded, it was refreshing to see an under-strength Madrid not have to rely on their superstars in order to hold their own. Ronaldo didn't have to score a hat-trick to keep Los Blancos in the game for example, just as Toni Kroos didn't necessarily have to ensure Madrid dominated possession. The team was precisely that; a team. Jesé and Lucas Vázquez kept PSG's full-backs - both of whom like to get  forward into attacking positions - Serge Aurier and Maxwell in check. The young wingers put in a lot of effort in tracking back and helping the team out when Real didn't have the ball. This is reflected in the post-match statistics. Jesé made more interceptions than any other player whilst Vázquez made more tackles than any other player. Casemiro too continued his impressive run in the side and his presence is really helping Toni Kroos this season. The Brazilian's physicality and tactical, defensive nous allows Kroos more freedom in his positioning and allows him to find the space to make himself available for the pass without having to worry about leaving space that would be susceptible to a counter-attack from the opponent should the passing move break down. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Kroos attempted more passes than any other Madrid player, completing an outstanding 96.2% pass accuracy. PSG are one of Europe's strongest teams and if the squad depth can hold up against PSG then it offers confidence that the same players can put in decent results against less accomplished teams.

3. Los Blancos still need to be more clinical in attack.

I would propose that the main problem with Real Madrid this season is their inability to be efficient with their attacking opportunities. In the match against PSG, Real Madrid had a total of 18 shots yet they failed to hit the back of the net with all of those efforts. In fact, across their past 7 matches a total of 140 shots has resulted in only 9 goals for the club from the Spanish capital. This constitutes an average of 20 shots per game but only 1.29 goals per game as a result. This profligacy in front of goal is certainly something that needs to be addressed if the club wants to achieve success in all three competitions they participate in this season. One excuse that could be attributed for this wastefulness is Rafael Benítez's tactical system which operates on the basis of having two holding players and consequently means that they are less attacking outlets in advanced positions when the team attacks. I think this is too simplistic a view to hold however. It might be a contributing factor but it isn't the sole cause for the lack of shooting accuracy and proficiency. Rather I would argue that the players themselves need to be more clever in how they take their shots. Too many efforts are being fired in from outside the box where the statistical chances of scoring are drastically lessened. Instead the shooting should be more patient and more considered. If there is the option to make a pass and keep possession and instead wait to receive the ball in a more promising position is that then not more fruitful than taking a speculative effort and consequently gifting possession back to the opponent? That said, I don't discourage players expressing themselves on the pitch, rather I believe there's been a lack of precision and thoughtfulness around a lot of Madrid's recent attacking performance.

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