1. The decision to start Casemiro was an excellent one
Real Madrid set up in a 4-3-3 with a midfield comprising of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and (perhaps surprisingly for some) Casemiro. As the game quickly progressed, it became obvious what the role of Casemiro was. He played the simple no-nonsense anchorman role that Real Madrid have been missing ever since Sami Khedira left. His positioning was very good and soon Atletico Madrid were looking to attack solely through the flanks or on Sergio Ramos’s side (more on that later). Casemiro ended the match with 5 tackles, 6 interceptions, 3 clearances, and 2 blocked shots. Putting the Brazilian in the starting lineup was a very clever tactical move by Benitez in order to match Atletico physically and add defensive steel.
2. Luka Modric was brilliant across the course of the match
It is clear that Benitez instructed Modric and Kroos (as the LCM and RCM respectively)prior to the match to step in between the lines of Atleti’s defense and midfield to provide some invention and outlets for possession. Modric did this to perfection as he consistently moved into channels to work with Marcelo, dropped deep to retain possession, and move near the edge of the box to provide some penetration. In addition he showed an incredible desire to defend when Benitez decided to sit back. The little Croatian ended the match with a 95.8% pass success rate, 5 tackles, and 3 interceptions.
3. Carvajal’s injury caused Real Madrid to lose a dimension in attack
For the 40 minutes Carvajal was on, he was simply scintillating. His forward movement was excellent and the midfield shape was aiding his forays forward. Isco was doing well to hold the ball and lay it off to him and thus Carvajal got lots of touches. The effect of all of this was that it kept the Atletico defense moving. We shifted the ball from flank to flank and stretched the pitch constantly. This inherently weakened Atleti’s defensive organization as they constantly had to readjust their shape. Once Arbeloa replaced Carvajal, Madrid lost their ability to quickly bombard forward on the right and suddenly Atletico were comfortable. All of Madrid’s attacks became predictable as Madrid focused a lot of their attacking passes down the left. Thus Atletico found it easier to organize their two banks of four and Los Blancos never looked like scoring in the second half.
4. Ramos was horrible while Varane was excellent
Most Madrid fans on MM were absolutely delighted when the news of Ramos’s return was made public. To be honest, it’s hard to remember exactly why we were so jubilant after this Ramos performance. Not only did Sergio make countless mistakes (botched lobbed back-pass to Keylor Navas, a needless penalty given away, and an easy interception of the head missed in the second half), but he was also constantly caught out of position. In addition, his marking of Torres was poor all game long and Correa found plenty of space to shoot in Ramos’s zone of control. It became pretty clear that Atletico were targeting Ramos with all of their attacks by the end of the match. All in all a game to forget quickly for the Madrid captain.
Varane on the other hand showed why he is the best young center back in world football. His positioning was quite frankly brilliant and he consistently won the ball in the air against Atleti’s forwards. He was an absolute rock with 5 clearances and was extremely brave as he blocked 3 shots. He also showed off his amazing recovery pace to close down Griezmann in the first half. As of now, Varane has been Madrid’s best center back this season.
5. Benitez’s decision to sit back cost Real Madrid the 3 points
The first half was a lively affair with Madrid pushing forward and looking to play in between the lines as much as possible. However, in the second half, Benitez ordered his team to take a complete U-turn in style. We sat back, parked the bus, and handed Atletico control of the game. I have no problem with playing pragmatically and cautiously, but we literally made no attempt to threaten Atletico in the final third. Atleti responded joyfully and created good chances through Correa, Jackson Martinez, and Luciano Vietto. Los Colchoneros finally broke through due to a bit of stupidity from Arbeloa and all of a sudden it was 1-1. Madrid could do nothing about it as Benitez had brought off Benzema for Kovacic and shifted to a 4-4-2 (presumably to get a better defensive shape). We meekly looked for a winner, but Atletico in the end looked more likely to win the game. I am worried this cautious approach might become a trend against big teams as Benitez did the same vs Athletic Bilbao (after we scored) and that nearly cost us the game (however we did respond quite brilliantly to going down). Parking the bus simply does not work with the personnel we have and Benitez must learn to be more positive. Hopefully this harsh lesson will do the trick.
Bits and Pieces
I simply cannot understand why Benitez continues to play Isco on the right. Isco doesn’t provide any natural width and doesn’t offer much when cutting onto his left. Even in previous matches Benitez played a 4-4-2 rather than allowing Isco a shot at the CAM role. A massive talent is being wasted here.
After tonight’s performance coupled with everything else so far, I truly believe Navas is the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. I have not been overly impressed with our defense over the course of the season and I feel that our excellent clean sheet record is more down to Navas than anything else. He came up huge today with a superb save on Griezmann’s pretty decent penalty. Such is the confidence fans have in him now, I feel that I wouldn’t be in the minority by saying that I actually expected Navas to save that. Cult hero.
Angel Correa was the most dangerous player for Atleti and Simeone taking him off was a mistake. His ball control was excellent and his dribbling caused all sorts of problems. Even though he is only 20 years old, he took the reigns of the game with relish and wasn’t afraid to have a pop at goal. I pray some premier league team picks him off so we don’t have to face a grown and mature Correa 2 or 3 years from now.
Benzema is proving to be sooooo clutch. Where are the haters now?
Arbeloa should never play a game of any importance for Real Madrid again.
(All statistics taken from whoscored.com)