Real Madrid have failed to take advantage of Barcelona's dropped points at the hands of Deportivo yesterday, losing to a surprisingly good Villareal side who were tactically brilliant at closing down passing lanes and defending as a unit. It's surprising, because the yellow submarine had just returned from the Czech Republic where they conceded three goals after a dreadful defensive collapse.
They really got up for this game, though. Here's three notes:
- From the start, Villareal decided to take the game to Real Madrid, which really payed off in the sense that they got their early goal, and defended brilliantly for the remaining 80 minutes. The start to the game was distressing for Real Madrid, who, in the opening five minutes, completed just 9/24 passes.
- Bear with me for this point.
Real Madrid's main, overwhelmingly problematic and underlying issue tonight was the lack of a third midfielder who could bind the midfield and attack. Modric theoretically is this player, but was overwhelmed with midfield duties without Kroos / Kovacic beside him. Casemiro was taking on more of the defensive workload, and James was playing higher up the pitch - too far from the other two midfielders to form a cohesive midfield to dictate the flow of the game. The gap between Modric - Casemiro and final third was too big, which made Villareal's defensive duties that much easier. Two lines of four, easily marking the front four of Real Madrid out of the game, leaving Madrid's deeper players to send long balls for large chunks of the first half.
Shades of clasico resurfaced (albeit to a less-extreme extent), and this was a problem which really hindered Real Madrid's offensive flow. There wasn't a notable chance created in the opening 45 minutes, and while the second half saw a more intensified Real Madrid, the problem was still present.
Here's what's more worrying: Rafa didn't make a single adjustment. His substitutions were baffling. In one stroke, he subbed out his entire midfield and replaced them with two fresh ones. Kovacic and Isco are more attack-oriented, but they do no solve the problem of adding to an otherwise abandoned midfield.
Furthermore, the lack of involvement from Benzema was staggering, and it's not his fault for not being connected to the offensive flow.
3. Great game by Marcelo. It's games like this where he truly shows his worth - when the opposing team is defending like their lives depended on it and everything is locked. Marcelo in these instances has the keys to unlock defenses. Unfortunately Real didn't get a result tonight, but Marcelo did bring an extra dimension to an otherwise hopeless match for Rafa's men.