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Real Madrid vs Schalke 04: Tactical Film Review

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We re-watched the Schalke disaster so you don't have to. This is what we found.

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Ever since I began watching and re-watching Real Madrid matches under a microscope, I've noticed a few things about the way goals are scored. Goals are scored from a combination of the following things, none of which are mutually exclusive.

1. A moment of brilliance from an individual player. These are a lot more common than you might think, but there's definitely gray area. The ultimate example of this is Bale's Copa del Rey winner last season. But I also think Aduriz's goal last weekened qualifies as well. Yes, the service might be good on this sort of goal, but it takes an extraordinary effort from the finisher to make it happen.

2. Team goals. Sort of self-explanatory. The team builds an attack and caps it off with a goal. Ronaldo's first against Bayern last season is a great example, as is this famous one from a few years ago against Ajax.

3. Defensive blunders. The defending team makes a ghastly mistake to make life easier. Poor marking, poor goalkeeping, whatever. These, too, are surprisingly common. Ultimate example is Schalke's first yesterday.

Now, these categorizations aren't based on any empirical evidence, and there is absolutely gray area for every goal scored in football. However given the way in which the net was found yesterday by both sides, I think it's worth outlining before diving into what felled Real Madrid yesterday.

Schalke's 3-5-2 enables them to counter attack with numbers, re-take the flanks, and above all, overload the midfield.

Madrid are trying to build an attack out of the back, but Pepe has nowhere to go with the ball because Schalke have seven players in the midfield. All of Isco, Kroos, and Khedira are too far forward to be an option, which has really been a common theme in the last few months. This is the price Madrid pay for not using a true defensive midfielder: there's a lot of pressure on the defenders to get the ball moving forward. Madrid had to settle for long ball passes from the back, or passes out wide. Which leads to...

This atrocity. This is the heat map of where Bale, Khedira, and Arbeloa were. Three players playing exclusively on the flank is precisely what Schalke aimed to do with their 5-man midfield, and it wasn't hard to achieve with offensively anemic players like Sami Khedira and Álvaro Arbeloa.

Khedira was playing about 10 yards forward and 5 yards to the left of where he can thrive, and Arbeloa is just not an offensive threat (which shouldn't come as news to anyone). Khedira was (literally) not put in a position to succeed, and both he and Bale suffered from it.

Even when Real Madrid got the ball out of the midfield and on the break, they faced more of the same issues they've endured in 2015. Kroos dug the ball out and Ronaldo had flicked it onto Bale, who took off running down the flank. But he had zero support from the midfield or fullbacks here. Khedira is a solid 40 yards behind him, and so Bale ended up dribbling himself into a corner before turning and looking for an outlet pass, but Khedira was late there too.

Putting Khedira and Arbeloa behind Bale, and then being shocked Bale isn't producing is like sticking a four-cylinder engine in a Ferrari and complaining it's not going fast enough. Real Madrid were predisposed to struggle given the squad selection and how it matched up against Schalke's aggressive formation.

Now, back to the aforementioned types of goals. Schalke's first goal was part team, part defensive blunder.

Barnetta curved in a skipping pass, and Huntelaar pulled a dummy masterfully to open up Fuchs. Huntelaar turned like he was to grab the pass, turn, and shoot, but he let it through to a wide open Fuchs. Schalke, and Huntelaar in particular, deserve credit for getting their man so open in the box.

But objectively speaking, that was a remarkably soft goal to allow by Casillas. Fuchs hit it directly at him without much pace, and Casillas turned it directly into his own net. Most keepers playing in the CL will eat up a shot at that angle.

Schalke's second goal was, again, quality team play capped off with dreadful keeping.

Real Madrid were horribly unorganized at the back on this goal. Arbeloa came over as the help defender to Fuchs, who was already marked by Pepe. Fuchs managed to flick the ball on regardless, and Casillas gave up a juicy rebound on Meyer's shot, which Huntelaar ate right up. Yes, Khedira could have marked Meyer. Yes, you'd like to see Varane beat Huntelaar to the rebound. And yes, Pepe should probably beat Fuchs to the initial ball. But Arbeloa sliding in to mark Fuchs, and Casillas' massive rebound is what allowed this goal to happen.

Schalke's third goal was more defensive blunders. Sané ended up scoring from a non-threatening position, but it was Höger's run which put Coentrão in a bind. Coentrão had to decide if he should close down Sané, or pick up the cutting Höger. Plenty of credit goes to Sané for being patient and buying himself some time and space, but Coentrão was in an impossible position, and Casillas failed to even get his hands up for the goal.

Very much like Schalke's third, their fourth goal highlighted just how slim the margin of error is against an attacking side like Schalke.

There's no one visual which captures how this goal happened, so just watch it yourself. Pepe was flat-footed for one second too long, which allowed Huntelaar to get free. Again, credit goes to Huntelaar for charging with a full head of steam from the center circle to the box, but if Pepe turns and runs a second sooner, he'd have had a much better chance to close down Huntelaar.

Schalke did many things well, particularly move off the ball and isolate Madrid's midfielders. Half of their goals came from abhorrent keeping and defending, and Madrid were very rattled early on. If not for the brilliance of Ronaldo and Benzema, today would be much more melancholy than it is now for Madridistas.

In summation: Casillas was dreadful. Schalke's formation matched up brilliantly against Madrid. The defense was often unorganized due to Schalke's movement. Sami Khedira and Álvaro Arbeloa are considerable downgrades from James/Illarra/Lucas and Carvajal. Ronaldo saved the day for the umpteenth time.

This tie will live in infamy as one of Madrid's poorest home performances in the Champions League, and it will certainly add to the lore of Di Matteo's tenacity in the Champions League. Schalke highlighted and exposed Madrid's fatal flaw in a lack of midfield cohesion between both the defenders and the attackers. Luka Modrić will absolutely help glue all three levels of the team back together, but Madrid cannot rely on only him to get them back into form.