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Real Madrid vs Villarreal: Tactical Review

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The where, how, and why Villarreal were able to leave the Bernabéu with a point.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Most teams playing the league leaders on the road with only four of their usual starting 11 would flounder, but Villarreal certainly didn't on Sunday. Marcelino's men came into the Bernabéu and achieved their goal like it was a training session.

Here's where the match was played within the pitch (Madrid's positions on the left, Villarreal's on the right).

Sticking out immediately is a clogged left flank and empty center forward space by Madrid. As Pedro noted, the burden fell on Isco, Marcelo, and Cristiano to create chances, and this wasn't due to poor tactics by Ancelotti. Villarreal flocked to the ball and didn't allow any passing lanes from the wings to the center of the pitch. The result was optimistic crosses, which isn't exactly an efficient offensive model. Madrid's crosses were far from hapless too -- but Chechu Dorado and Jaume Costa accounted for 18 clearances between the two of them. In comparison, Real Madrid had 21 among the entire team. Villarreal seemed happy to allow chances, confident both in their ability to defend, and in Sergio Asenjo between the posts.

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Villarreal have eight players back, defending in very distinct layers. Lucas Silva doesn't have anywhere to go with the ball but to the outside, and so this attack ended in a goal kick for Villarreal. Despite having so many men back, Villarreal were still able to threaten from their own third because of how fast they get going and how well they move without the ball.

On Villarreal's equalizer, they took a similar approach to what Real did for much of the game: get the ball on the wing, and swing it in to where you have attackers. At first glance it looked like it was mostly due to Real's inability to clear their lines, but it might've been more.

Even in tight situations, Villarreal move off the ball extremely well, to both their and Marcelino's credit. On their equalizer, they put the ball into the heart of Madrid's defense, and made it difficult for Varane, Marcelo, and Pepe to mark their men by continuing to move on and off the ball. Most days Madrid are able to clear their lines, but it was hardly a coincidence that Villarreal managed to create a goal from that.

A poor result highlights a team's flaws, and that's what happened Sunday. If there's anything worth over-reacting to from Sunday's match, it's the quality of Villarreal and Marcelino, not the follies of Madrid. In short, this is what I took away from this match a day later.

Real lacked a central attacking presence.

Villarreal were as disciplined as any club I've seen, and it's no coincidence they're fighting for a UCL slot.

Ronaldo finishes more on a better day (he took 13 shots, putting six on target).

Lucas Silva is getting there. Villarreal pressed hard, and he ended up moving many passes backwards. But he's looked better with each start and is clearly still learning the system.

Real are vulnerable to teams which press hard in midfield and prevent Bale and Cristiano from getting in space. Luckily for Real Madrid, there aren't many teams in Spain, or Europe, who expand and contract the way Villarreal do.