If you’ve been reading my fanposts of late (as Ronaldom) you’ve noticed that I’ve been begging Benitez to slow done the the tempo a bit when Madrid have possession of the ball. Well today Benitez went a bit extreme with that idea. Madrid were so slow at times that they looked incredibly lethargic. But that has less to do with the actually game plan of possession but by the way it was executed. When most people think of tiki-taka and its variants they imagine a type of play that allows players to conserve energy and let the ball do the work. That isn’t entirely true. Possession football requires the highest off the ball work-rate out of any style of play in order to create critical angles and create chances. The lack of movement was incredibly evident in the way the Madrid players were caught offside several times and passes went nowhere. There also seemed to be a disturbing disconnect between the midfield and offensive lines.
It was always going to be tough for Los Blancos when they set-up in a 4-4-2. This formation has an obvious lack of triangles and is not naturally conducive for a team that wish to dominate the game. The best movement off the ball came from Ronaldo and he was fed a decent number of times to different effects by Isco and Modric. But that was about it. Benzema’s decent movement overall finally provided Isco a target in the box and Madrid grabbed the lead and saw out the game. But overall, it was a Madrid that looked to win the game by simply shifting the ball out wide and either cross or make simple passes into the box.
After watching the way our back line was so easily stretched, I’m not sure it’s fair to point to the clean sheet and say our defense played well. The one-on-one ability of El Arabi and Isaac Success troubled the Madrid defenders to no end and there seemed to be a lack of organization across the whole line when trying to deal with through balls and crosses. There was also a fearful lack of marking on a free kick 25 minutes in that the likes of Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid will be licking their lips at. If it weren’t for (what’s becoming) a typical Keylor Navas performance, bad Granada misses and a wrongly ruled out goal, Granada could have been in danger of taking something from this match.
Key Player Grades
The Spaniard started the game in a more preferred roaming advanced playmaker role. He had a real chance to stamp his name on the game but didn’t really do that in an obvious sense. However, the general lack of movement limited what Isco could do, so he showed superb vision (in context) to find Ronaldo the number of times he did. He was the main spark in Madrid’s attack and provided the assist for Benzema to head in the winning goal.
This little man’s intelligence is just out of this world. While at times it looked like he was forcing the issue, he managed to step up the pace of the game with excellent long through balls to the front two (especially Ronaldo; his long one-two with Ronaldo to set himself up for the shot was particularly brilliant). In the second half, with Benitez looking to continue his game-plan, Modric pushed himself higher up to ensure Madrid could play intricate football. For at least 10 minutes following the change in Modric’s movement, Isco found more influence and Marcelo marauded forward the best he had done all season. However Modric was pushed back as Granada began to come forward with more regularity 55 minutes onwards. If Benitez can sort out the way Madrid play possession football, Modric will be a midfield general of the pass like no one else since the Xavi of old.
El Arabi is one tricky customer. His dribbling was really mindblowing at times and he gave the Granada attack real punch when going forward. He will rue his missed one-on-one chance against Navas following some exciting footwork, but he should be the player least blamed for Granada’s loss as he was wrongly denied a goal by a bad offside call.
Another really tricky player is the teenager Isaac Success. He really gave Marcelo a free ticket on the merry go round and it was probably a mistake to sub him of in the 60th minute. But his horrific chipped miss when clear through on goal cannot be forgotten. Thus his grade falls from a likely B or B+ to a B-.
Bits and Pieces
Rene Krhin is a player that silently impressed for Granada. There were a couple times where he held up the ball and beat 3 or 4 Madrid players to avoid Madrid’s now recognizable press and create something for Granada. If he can keep up this show of craft and strength, Granada have got a player that is capable of making them mid-table.
What in the world has Jese got to do to get a game?! With Bale and James out, everyone (and I mean everyone) thought Jese would start. Instead Vazquez started and Cheryshev came on as a substitute. One cannot blame Jese if he started to consider a move elsewhere.
Benzema may not have been vintage today, but you cannot fault his scoring record at the moment. Some fans have called for more goals from the Frenchman and he now has 3 in 3 La Liga games. The critics have been silenced for now.
Will the real Marcelo please stand up? I thought the captain’s armband would’ve sparked a performance from him, but he looked mostly lethargic and he neither came forward particularly well or defended particularly well.
Vazquez seemed to be a bystander for most of the game but it must be noted that he did his share of defensive work, something that Benitez won’t have missed.
Keylor Navas made three good saves. There is little more Madrid fans can ask from this man.
So what was positive from this game?
Madrid won ugly. We weren’t good, but we got the three points. It was much better to play like this before facing Bilbao and Atletico. Benitez now has the time to sort things out and make sure Madrid are much better when possessing the ball. This is particularly important as Real will be expected to take the game to their rivals.