Normally this would be a proper article, but for obvious reasons I think its better if I just note down some tactical comments.
Rayo had the better of Madrid when the game was 11 vs 11
The only thing really worth analyzing is the first 20 minutes of the game where Rayo absolutely played us off the park. Madrid needed a response after the lackluster 1-0 loss to Villarreal - with even Florentino Perez calling for more intensity from his players - and Madrid seemed to have finally gotten the message as Danilo scored in the 3rd minute. Rayo’s defensive line was high and the obvious gaps that existed in their defensive line were simply asking to be exploited. Madrid duly obliged as the ball was shifted from Ronaldo to (eventually) Danilo to easily score the first.
But instead of retaining control of the game, Madrid simply could not stem the bravado of Rayo’s attackers. The lack of defensive and positional nous that is so obvious in Benitez’s James-Kroos-Modric midfield combo was exploited with ease as Rayo scored two in two minutes.
Of course while some of that is down to the lack of steel in midfield, the defensive line was also not up to scratch. Rayo were playing one-twos in our box and our defensive shape was stretched all over the place. The organized defensive unit that Rafa created at the beginning of the season seems all but gone at this point in the season.
Benitez’s control is crumbling due to the desires of Perez, the desires of the players, and the desires of the fans
While this match by itself doesn’t really give me the ammunition to prove this point, the series of matches played before this game in conjunction with this one makes Benitez’s lack of control clear. At the beginning of the season Benitez seemed determined to stamp his authority on the team. He wanted a 4-2-3-1 with Bale as a shadow striker, he wanted defensive solidity, and he seemed ready to push for heavy rotations to ensure that Madrid’s stars would consistently be on their toes. He was looking for fast paced football with a system of high fluidity between attackers that would devastate defenses all over Europe.
But now, Benitez just looks confused. He plays a 4-3-3 with James, Kroos, and Modric in midfield, something that clearly goes against his philosophy as a coach, and sees Madrid’s defensive solidity collapse.*
Yet the line-up on the pitch doesn’t fit Benitez’s philosophy. As a result, what we get is a confused mess. Perez and the fans want attacking football, so Benitez plays the line-up that we saw today. The players want to have greater freedom (obviously), so Benitez allows a level of fluidity so high that it often looks like his players are deciding how the game should be run.
Sadly it looks like the vitriol of the fans and the media along with the pressure of the job has gotten to Benitez. He arrived with the Mourinho approach to stamp his mark on the team and has ended up taking a super-passive approach that appears like the route Ancelotti would’ve taken (but make no mistake, Ancelotti may have massaged the players’ egos and pleased the fans, but he always had a level of certainty and control over matters).
We saw all of what I described in the first 20 minutes of this match, and in the end, that is the biggest tactical thing that can be taken away from this game (obviously with the rest of the season used as evidence, I’m not making this judgment on this one isolated incident) .
While my article seems to have taken a decidedly negative turn, let it be known that I still believe in this team’s potential. I just really feel sorry for Benitez who obviously has not had the mentality and composure to deal with the political quagmire that is Real Madrid.
To conclude, I feel our very own Bozz sums this match up better than anyone could:
(*Side note on the 4-3-3 James, Kroos, Modric combo: But that combination is by no means disastrous by itself. Ancelotti played that combo several times before and Madrid absolutely dominated games with that trio. But that is because Ancelotti played to their strengths. Due to the fact that Madrid aren’t the strongest when defending with that trio, they looked to slow the pace of the match and control the game, thus limiting the opportunities of the opponent through virtue of possession. But even with 9 men down Rayo had 50% of the ball (stat via FourFourTwo). While that statistic doesn’t say Madrid played badly, it does show the difference in philosophy between Benitez and Ancelotti)