clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

FACT: Real Madrid scored as many goals as any other team in the Champions League with 19

New, comments

FACT: Madrid’s 8-0 victory over Malmö was the joint-highest in the Champions League. FACT: Madrid have scored 32 goals in La Liga, second only to leaders Barcelona, who have 35.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Rafa Benitez's ‘fact' speech during his time as Liverpool coach may live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons but Madrid's current coach at least has some facts to back-up that he is far from the defensive coach he was sold as being on his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer.

The Spaniard's arrival back in the capital city was derided as obscene by the Spanish press and a large section of fans, not only confused by the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti but bemused by the choice to pick a defence-minded coach who guided Napoli to fifth in Serie A as his successor.

Benitez may have got off to a rocky start to life as coach of Los Blancos, even by the club's unique standards, but all is not lost just yet. If the midweek destruction of the Swedish club was not enough to back-up Benitez's claims that he is far from defensive, then a case study from our friends at Sportsmatrix helps the coach's cause.

The study compared Madrid's last three coaches - Benitez, Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho, and although it is still early days for Benitez, he fairs quite well against two of world football's most successful coaches.

The study was carried out before Tuesday night's Champions League clash, meaning Benitez's stats will only be better now. Before that match, Madrid had enjoyed 2.17 goals per game under his stewardship compared to 2.92 under Ancelotti and 2.94 with Mourinho at the helm.

While over the course of a high number of games this may be a large gap, Benitez's time at the helm means the former Liverpool coach has yet to enjoy a run of consistency in his runs or his team. Injuries can be used as an excuse but with attacking talent such as Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale on the sidelines for large chunks of the campaign so far, Madrid have not been able to field their strongest line-up on too many occasions.

Those injuries, and Benitez's adaption period to life at the Bernabeu, has seen highly contrasting results. While the huge 8-0 win on Tuesday was backed-up by a 6-0 win at Espanyol and 5-0 home win against Real Betis, Los Blancos only struggled to a 1-0 home win against lowly Granada and were held to a 0-0 stalemate on home soil against Malaga. These latter games were games Ancelotti and Mourinho would have been expected to blitz with goals.

It is not for a want of trying, however. The sportsmatrix stats actually show Benitez's side having more shots per game than the teams of Ancelotti and Mourinho. While Rafa's men carve out 19.58 shots on goals per game, Ancelotti's side enjoyed 18.76 and Mourinho's tested the opposition goalkeeper 18.69 times per game on average.

These stats, more than the goals themselves, show that Madrid's style of play has been far from defensive. The difference has been in the execution, and going back to the lengthy list of injuries Madrid have sustained so far this season, Benitez will only be hoping the goals-to-shots ratio only increases with a clean bill of health.

If anything, it has been Madrid's defensive set-up that has caused them problems. While records were broken at how tight the back four were at the start of the campaign, that has soon opened up and a 4-0 home defeat against Barcelona hammered those problems home. That Los Blancos almost threw away a big lead against Shakhtar Donetsk in a seven-goal thriller only confirmed those problems.

That early defensive strength means Benitez's side currently enjoys a better defensive record than the teams of Ancelotti and Mourinho. With 0.92 goals conceded per game, Benitez's side look tougher to score against overall than the sides of the Italian (1.0) or the Portuguese (0.98).

Still, Benitez's Blancos have more shots to deal with. The current Madrid team allows an average of 12.5 chances per game while Ancelotti's men limited their opposition to 11.48 opportunities in front of goal and Mourinho's Madrid stifled their opponents to 10.5 shots per match.

The defensive statistics go some way to showing that while Los Blancos may be better off with Keylor Navas in goal and the current back four, there are still problems in midfield, with chances being allowed. Mourinho mastered the art of protecting his defence, getting men behind the ball and counter attacking, Benitez has yet to perfect the balance in one of the most crucial areas of the pitch - the centre of midfield.

Those problems were highlighted in El Clasico. With no natural ball-winner such as Casemiro, who has shone so far this season, Madrid were simply overrun in midfield and were made to pay. Benitez selected his ‘ideal' XI, including Toni Kroos in the middle, a defensive midfielder whose strength is not ball-winning. Against Atleti, a similarly tough match away from home and with Casemiro in the starting line-up, Los Blancos were better.

These midfield problems are also backed-up by sportsmatrix's data looking at the opponents' attacking actions per game. There are 433.3 such build-ups from the opponents this season but only 392.5 under Ancelotti and 379.9 with Mourinho in charge. The Portuguese coach knew how to nip attacking opportunities for his opponents in the bud.

With more than one third of the season already complete, the jury is still very much out on Benitez. While his style of play may still be in question, the ‘defensive coach' line cannot be thrown at him on too many occasions this season. The high-scoring results and these sportsmatrix stats back that up. The main problem is protection of the defence and stopping chances for the opponents. With Benitez one of the modern coaches to first trust facts and stats, Madrididtas will be hoping he can take these on board and fix his side's problems.